Officials force group to reveal ballot question donors
BOSTON (AP) — State campaign finance officials have required a group that funneled large donations to 2016 ballot questions regarding charter schools and marijuana legalization to disclose the identity of its donors.
Officials said Tuesday that the Massachusetts-based Strong Economy for Growth raised and spent almost $1.2 million to support the ballot questions. The bulk of the money, $990,000, went to Great Schools Massachusetts, a committee set up to support a ballot question about lifting state caps on charter schools, but the question failed.
Strong Economy for Growth also funneled $178,000 to The Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, a group opposed to a question about legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. That question was approved by voters.
The biggest donation to Strong Economy for Growth, $600,000, came from a nonprofit, QXZ Inc., whose major donor is Jeffrey Yass, a charter school advocate, according to campaign finance officials.
The group also got $20,000 from Romney for President, former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney's presidential committee.
The president of Strong Economy for Growth, Rob Haskins, said the nonprofit group was formed in 2013 in part to advocate for job creation, education and public safety.
"Although all of the contributions to the two ballot committees were previously publicly disclosed, it was the determination of (the Office of Campaign and Political Finance) that some of the donors should have been publicly disclosed, and today we are happy to comply with that decision," Haskins said.
The Office of Campaign and Political Finance required Strong Economy for Growth to form a ballot question committee, disclose its donors and pay $31,000, all of the money left in its bank account, to the state for violating campaign finance laws.
As part of the resolution with campaign finance officials, the group also agreed not to engage in any election-related activity in Massachusetts through 2018.
The agreement is the second reached in connection to the charter schools ballot question, which was backed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.
Last year a New York-based group that also backed the charter school question paid more than $425,000 to Massachusetts as part of a campaign finance settlement.
The civil forfeiture by Families for Excellent Schools-Advocacy is the largest in the 44-year history of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.
Investigators said the group raised more than $15 million from people and then contributed it to the Great Schools Massachusetts Ballot Question Committee in a manner intended to disguise the true source of the money.
Among those contributing to the group was Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Chairman Paul Sagan, who made a $500,000 donation. That donation wasn't made public until the settlement was announced last year. Sagan has said it was up to the group, not him, to reveal the donation.
The money represented 70 percent of the $21.7 million reported received by the charter school committee.
The question was opposed in large part by teachers' unions.