Pro-Campbell super PAC says it’s restricted from involvement in AG’s race

Andrea Campbell Better Boston ad 2021

A screenshot from one of the pro-Campbell ads put together by the "Better Boston" super PAC in the 2021 mayoral race. The super PAC says it's on the sidelines as Campbell runs for attorney general.

The outside group known as “Better Boston,” which backed Andrea Campbell in her 2021 mayoral run, says it’s sitting on the sidelines for the former city councillor’s 2022 run for attorney general. The group’s Dorchester-based leader says its scope is limited to Boston races only.

Sonia Alleyne, the Dorchester resident and former bank executive who chairs the outside group, says they are limited to races in Boston due to their filing with campaign finance regulators. The Democratic primary for attorney general is a statewide contest, with Campbell, who represented Dorchester and Mattapan on the City Council, competing against former Obama administration official Quentin Palfrey and labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordian.

“We’re not doing anything right now,” Alleyne told the Reporter.

“We do think the world of Andrea because we worked to support her in the mayoral race. We wish her well,” she added.

The outside group is a super PAC (political action committee), an entity that can spend and raise unlimited amounts of money. They are restricted from coordinating with the candidates they support. Under its statement of organization, filed in March 2021, the “Better Boston” super PAC said it supports candidates focused on Boston, and Alleyne told the Reporter that’s where the super PAC’s focus remains. There is no fundraising underway, she added.

The one super PAC active in the attorney general’s race has ties to the Environmental League of Massachusetts, but it’s not drawing as much criticism from Campbell’s opponents.

In 2021, the “Better Boston” super PAC raised $2 million in its efforts to support Campbell, and spent its money on TV, digital and radio ads, as well as polling. Campbell fell short in the mayoral preliminary, coming in third behind the two finalists, fellow councillors Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George. Wu and Essaibi George had their own super PACs.

During the mayoral race, critics of “Better Boston” took aim at some of the super PAC’s donors, saying they’re aligned with supporters of charter schools. “Better Boston” also notably pulled in a $125,000 donation from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. But the outside group also received donations from attorneys, local educators, the manager of a Caribbean restaurant in Codman Square, and the late Nonnie Burnes, a former Superior Court judge who served as head of the state Division of Insurance under Gov. Deval Patrick.

Campbell’s opponents in this year’s race for attorney general have sought to take similar aim at the “Better Boston” super PAC, even as the group has stayed out of the fray. Palfrey, who worked in the Obama White House, is trying to revive the “People’s Pledge” and rein in super PAC spending.

The first “People’s Pledge” was proposed by Republican Scott Brown, the U.S. senator running for reelection in 2012 in Massachusetts and facing Harvard University professor Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat. Warren joined Brown in signing the pledge, which calls for candidates to pay penalties to charities if the super PACs, which they can’t control, spend money. (Warren, who beat Brown in that race, would later embrace super PACs during her unsuccessful 2020 presidential campaign.)

The “People’s Pledge” has resurfaced in Massachusetts politics over the years, with little impact. Marty Walsh, when he ran for mayor in 2013, called the pledge a “political gimmick” as his opponents sought to restrict outside spending. Walsh saw $2.5 million in support from outside groups with union ties, while his opponent, then-Councillor John Connolly, saw $1.3 million from the business sector.

In the 2021 race for mayor, the “People’s Pledge” was nonexistent. Essaibi George called on super PACs to stay out, while noting that she cannot control their actions. Wu publicly asked the super PACs to stay positive, similar to Walsh’s request of his groups in 2013.

Campbell has not signed this year’s “People’s Pledge,” leaving Palfrey and Liss-Riordan, the labor attorney also running for AG, as the only signatories. The pledge only goes into effect if all three sign the agreement.

“If – for the first time in Massachusetts history – superPACs are allowed to play a role in the campaign for the next Attorney General, that would set a dangerous precedent,” Palfrey said in an email message to supporters.

Palfrey’s message focused on “Better Boston,” which had a year-end report for 2021 showing it had $41.12 left in its account with campaign finance regulators. But the one super PAC actually involved in the AG’s race is the Environmental League of Massachusetts (ELM) Action Fund’s outside group, which was one of the super PACs that backed Wu in 2021. This year, the super PAC is supporting Campbell, as well as Maura Healey in the governor’s race, and Chris Dempsey in the auditor’s race, spending several thousand dollars on mailers and digital advertising.

Palfrey said his super PAC criticisms — highlighting the potential for conflicts of interests that could force the attorney general to recuse herself and himself from matters involving super PAC donors — apply to the Environmental League of Massachusetts, too. He also called for the group to release more information about its donors, since a $50,000 donation is simply listed as coming from a nonprofit associated with ELM.

“Those conflicts arise regardless of whether you have sympathies with the political donors’ agenda,” he told the Reporter.

Asked about its donors, Elizabeth Henry, treasurer of the ELM super PAC, said supporters are “united by the urgency of the climate and environmental challenges we face.” The super PAC works to “elect candidates with the ambition and experience to accelerate environmental progress on Beacon Hill and to model leadership for other states and nations.”

Molly McGlynn, a Campbell campaign spokeswoman, said Palfrey and Liss-Riordan participated in ELM’s endorsement process. As for Campbell’s views on outside spending, McGlynn said, “Andrea has been on the record talking not only about outside spending in the race, and how she is beholden to the people, not large corporations or special interests, but also about the overwhelming number of grassroots contributions she has received from Massachusetts voters.”

Liss-Riordan’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

The winner of the Sept. 6 Democratic primary for attorney general will face off against the expected Republican nominee, Cape Cod lawyer Jay McMahon, who is making his second run for the post.

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