By G. Michael Dobbs
GREATER SPRINGFIELD – Not all of the candidates for the First Hampden and Hampshire state Senate seat think that limiting out of state campaign contributions to $5,000 is a good idea.
The district includes Wilbraham, a portion of Springfield, the communities of Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, Ludlow, Granby, Hampden, Belchertown and a portion of Chicopee.
On April 17, Springfield City Councilor and state Senate candidate Timothy Allen wrote his fellow candidates and proposed to limit certain contributions. He wrote, in part, “None of us would disagree with the notion that voters in our country and in the Commonwealth have become increasingly frustrated by the corrupting influence of money in the political system. PACs [Political Action Committees], Super PACs and targeted outside spending for regional offices are just some of the reasons so many feel our democracy has been warped by money. Big donors from outside a jurisdiction too often influence the outcome, even though they don’t live or vote in that particular jurisdiction.
“So today I am offering a challenge to each of us in this Senate race to take a stand against the rising tide of outside money influencing our local elections.
“I am pledging, and hope you will join me, to limit total contributions from outside of Massachusetts to my campaign to $5,000. This ‘Candidate’s Pledge’ will demonstrate a unity among us that we can take small but important steps to reform the political process. We can set an example here, now, in the First Hampden and Hampshire State Senate District.”
Two of his Democratic opponents said they would support the limit, while another disagreed and still another is “leaning towards it.”
Aaron Saunders told Reminder Publications
that agreeing to such a limit was “a no brainer.” Saunders noted that he is “blessed to have friends all around the country,” but he is willing to forego some possible contributions.
He added he has spent time thinking about the Supreme Court decisions regulating campaign contributions and is concerned about the effect of outside money.
Chip Harrington released a statement shortly after learning of the proposal. He said, “This pledge is frankly easy for me to make. Not only because I have lived in this district my entire life and the large majority of my supporters live in Massachusetts and furthermore live in the cities and towns that make up the district but I also wholeheartedly agree with Tim that ‘voters are frustrated by the corrupting influence of money in politics particularly money from outside sources.’ Deep pocketed folks from outside of the Commonwealth should not be able to shape this race and influence who the next State Senator of the First Hampden and Hampshire will be. That should be up to the residents and voters of the district.”
He added, “That is why I pledge further to have the same limit ($5,000) on accepting money from registered lobbyists. Just as much of a corruption that money from outside the Commonwealth can be so is money from Boston based lobbyists. We here in Western Massachusetts have been getting the short end of the stick for far too long. Accepting large amounts of money from lobbyists pits their needs against those of Western Massachusetts. I will always put the needs of Western Massachusetts ahead of lobbyists and special interested.”
Thomas Lachiusa said there is only one candidate in the race, Eric Lesser, who would benefit from outside contributions. Lachiusa, a social worker, said there is a movement across the country among social workers to elect more of their own to office. He added he was going to check with a political consultant about the ramifications of outside funding, but said that he was “leaning towards” supporting the ban.
Lesser was not in agreement with the limit and wrote, “My experience with politics began at a local level here in Western Massachusetts and has always been oriented toward empowering our local communities. My involvement in politics began as a high school student in Longmeadow, when I successfully protected my school system from budget cuts during the 2002 recession. My campaign now has support from grassroots leaders in every town in the district and I’m out speaking directly to voters and knocking on doors almost every day. We have and are continuing to host local house parties in every town, as well.
“I am honored and very humbled to be receiving tremendous support from within Massachusetts and within the district. Most of my supporters have known me for many years and have worked with me going back even to my time in high school. I’m also proud of the support I’ve received from friends and colleagues in other areas, too. The friendships and experiences I have around the country will make me a more effective advocate for our district. When it’s time to work on a new grant, or secure funding for road improvements, or attract new business investment, I will be able to call a broad range of people and make sure they pay attention to Western Massachusetts.
“At a time when our economy and our world are more connected then ever, we need to encourage more outreach, not discourage it. If we build a wall around ourselves, it will mean less opportunity for Western Massachusetts. My campaign is about taking a new approach and bringing a new set of perspectives and experiences to the same problems we’ve had year after year. If we continue to follow business as usual, we’ll get politics as usual, and that’s what I’m out to change,” he concluded.
As of press time, the sole Republican candidate for the seat, Debra Boronski, had not responded to inquiries about this issue.