, Salem, MA

September 6, 2013

Our view: McLaughlin, Murray didn't play by campaign rules

The Salem News

---- — Massachusetts officials levied a hefty fine against former Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray and indicted his friend and fundraiser Michael McLaughlin over campaign finance violations.

The fines and criminal charges are a welcome step in the ongoing effort to enforce campaign finance law. These rules exist to keep our elections free and fair.

Murray, Attorney General Martha Coakley and the Office of Campaign and Political Finance agreed to a settlement that requires Murray to refund $50,000 in illegal contributions made to his political committee and to pay a $30,000 fine. Murray must use $10,000 of his personal funds to pay the fine; the balance will come from his campaign treasury. Murray also agreed to dissolve his campaign committee.

According to the settlement, in his 2006 campaign for lieutenant governor, Murray solicited the support of McLaughlin, who, as a public employee, is barred by law from participating in fundraising. Nevertheless, McLaughlin organized fundraisers for Murray in Methuen. Another unnamed public employee solicited funds for Murray in the Worcester area.

The settlement ends a yearlong investigation of the ties between Murray and McLaughlin, the disgraced former Chelsea Housing Authority director who was sentenced to three years in prison last month after pleading guilty earlier this year to unrelated federal charges that he knowingly concealed his salary and filed false reports.

Murray resigned as lieutenant governor in May to take a $200,000 per year job as president of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Murray said in a statement he is glad the settlement resolves the investigation. He was also quick to distance himself from McLaughlin.

“If I knew in 2006 what I know today about Mr. McLaughlin, I would have never had any association with him at all,” Murray said in his statement, as reported by the Associated Press. “Nevertheless, Mr. McLaughlin’s behavior does not change the fact that I am ultimately responsible for administrative oversights made by my committee.”

Coakley also announced that a Suffolk County grand jury had indicted McLaughlin on four counts of unlawful solicitation by a public employee and four counts of conspiracy to solicit in a public building. McLaughlin is scheduled for arraignment on the charges this week.

Prosecutors said McLaughlin directed a Chelsea Housing Authority worker to collect contributions for Murray from other employees, and that he asked employees and others associated with the agency to attend a trio of fundraisers McLaughlin organized for Murray in Methuen.

McLaughlin also allegedly solicited housing authority employees to contribute to the 2009 Lawrence mayoral candidacy of Israel Reyes.

McLaughlin also asked his employees to perform political work — holding signs, working at polls and the like — for Murray and Reyes.

These are blatant violations of campaign finance law and should, if the charges are proven, result in further punishment for McLaughlin.

Public employees are not tools for political hacks to use at their will. Public employees must not be forced to conclude that their jobs depend on their willingness to participate in the partisan political activities of their superiors. That why using public employees to solicit funds for political candidates is a crime.

McLaughlin and Murray have been involved in politics long enough to know the rules. That they so willingly violated them shows the contempt they had for the public they allegedly served.