Advocacy nonprofit fined $31G by state

Massachussetts Gov. Charlie Baker, Credit Angela Rowlings

Credit: Angela Rowlings

Gov. Charlie Baker

An obscure nonprofit with ties to Bay State Republicans is accused of disguising more than $1.2 million in donations from businesses, wealthy advocates, and even Mitt Romney’s federal committee before funneling them toward two failed ballot questions backed by Gov. Charlie Baker, state officials disclosed yesterday.

The group, Strong Economy for Growth, was ordered to pay a $31,000 penalty and register with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance with the agreement it would be barred from all “election-related activity” in 2018.

The nonprofit had “an intent to influence the election,” OCPF said. It donated $990,000 to Great Schools Massachusetts, the committee that pushed a ballot question lifting the state cap on charter schools, and another $178,000 to a Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, which opposed the ballot question to legalize marijuana.

Both efforts were unsuccessful, despite vocal support from Baker. The charter school question was voted down, while the question legalizing pot passed.

Strong Economy for Growth, or SEFG, made the donations while collecting more than $1.2 million and “disguising the identities” of its own donors, according to OCPF. It included a $600,000 contribution from the nonprofit, QXZ Inc., whose major donor is Jeffrey Yass, a charter school advocate, and a $200,000 donation from noted anti-marijuana advocate Julie Schauer.

The group also got $20,000 from Romney for President Inc., the former governor’s presidential committee. Bradley Crate, its treasurer, did not return calls left by the Herald. Crate also serves as the treasurer for Baker’s gubernatorial campaign committee.

Rob Haskins, the nonprofit’s president, said in a statement that while its donations to ballot committees were previously publicly disclosed, “it was the determination of OCPF that some of the donors should have been publicly disclosed.

“We are happy to comply with that decision,” he said.

The nonprofit has backed Baker before. Officials involved in the group created a separate independent expenditure PAC in 2014, when it spent $6,000 in the closing days of the gubernatorial election supporting Baker.

-Originally published by Matt Stout with the Boston Herald, January 3, 2018.

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