, Salem, MA

November 2, 2010

Campaign season busy, costly

North Shore ponied up millions for state candidates before vote

By Chris Cassidy

North Shore activists and corporations have pumped more than $2.5 million into state and federal political campaigns this election cycle, according to finance reports.

The polls close across Massachusetts at 8 tonight, capping a campaign season that has been busy, often negative and very costly.

A look at campaign finance reports shows that the North Shore spent nearly $1.7 million to fund state campaigns, including candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and state representative, as well as committees for and against the three statewide ballot questions.

The region also contributed $856,264 to federal campaigns, mainly the congressional race between Democrat John Tierney and Republican Bill Hudak. But residents also donated money to help congressional candidates in other districts, even out-of-state campaigns.

"With the rise of Facebook and social networking sites and the ability for campaigns to get out to people, it becomes a little easier to donate than in the past," said Salem State University political science professor Dan Mulcare. "That's why I would think these are fairly robust figures."

The donations to state races mark a slight increase from four years ago. That year, the North Shore contributed $1.58 million to state races, including the governor's contest between Democrat Deval Patrick and Republican Kerry Healey and a ballot question to allow the sale of wine at grocery stores. (That figure, however, does not include approximately $9.4 million in donations that Healey made to her own campaign that year).

Marblehead political activists had the deepest pockets on the North Shore this year, pouring $447,052 into campaigns. Swampscott, Republican Charlie Baker's hometown, donated $316,680, most of it to state campaigns.

Danvers saw some of the largest single-party donations. Merrimack Valley Distributing donated $41,820 to the Vote Yes on One Committee, which supports repealing a sales tax on alcohol. Seaboard Products Co., another Danvers alcohol distributor, contributed $31,980 to support Question 1.

"There's a lot of money in the political process," Mulcare said. "And it's very particular to the American political system. In other countries, they'll have six weeks or two-month elections, so people aren't running for a year or two beforehand."

Mulcare noted that it's expensive to run TV and radio ads in the Boston market, not to mention additional campaign expenses, including mailings, get-out-the-vote efforts and staff salaries.

Mulcare also suggested the actual figure may be much higher after factoring in the Supreme Court decision earlier this year on a case brought by Citizens United that lifted government restrictions on the amount of money corporations and unions can spend on candidate elections. Some North Shore donors may have contributed money to outside parties that, in turn, funded a particular campaign.

The state donations cover a period from Jan. 1 to Nov. 1. The federal figures run from Jan. 20 — the day after the special Senate election between Scott Brown and Martha Coakley — and Nov. 1.

Hudak's hometown of Boxford contributed $179,223 to federal campaigns, though much of that money came from Hudak himself.

Staff writer Chris Cassidy can be reached at ccassidy@salem