News and Features: Inquiries
'No money' Mike Connolly
October 11, 2012
by his own admission, “No Money” Mike Connolly has made hundreds of people laugh by telling them he is running for state representative but not accepting any campaign donations.
But Connolly, a Boston College Law School graduate, is not joking.
The East Cambridge resident, a self-proclaimed “progressive independent,” is running against incumbent Rep. Tim Toomey, a Cambridge Democrat who has represented the eastern neighborhoods of Cambridge and Somerville on Beacon Hill for nearly 20 years. Toomey also serves on the Cambridge City Council. A Republican, Thomas Vasconcelos, is also in the race.
The 32-year-old Connolly sees himself as part of a percolating movement to reduce the influence of money in politics. Nearly 500 people have pledged to donate zero dollars to Connolly’s campaign. Inspired by the grassroots strategies of Occupy Boston, he says elections should be about voters and their issues, not about an endless quest for cash to run campaigns.
“I want to stand for the concept that financial influence shouldn’t stand for political influence,” he says.
Some 60 volunteers have signed up to help pore over voter lists and do door-to-door canvassing and other tasks. One of the volunteers, Frank Gerratana, shares Connolly’s ideas about the corrosive demands of political fundraising. “The more time that politicians have to spend talking to a small set of people who have big bucks,” says Gerratana, an attorney who lives in Central Square, “the less time they spend with the actual people that they are elected to represent.”
Toomey raised about $25,000 through mid August and Vasconcelos nearly $1,600, according to state records. The incumbent says that he isn’t paying attention to how others are running their campaigns and adds that voters should “look beyond the gimmicks.”
Accepting no donations does not mean spending no money. Connolly, who works full time as a project manager for a software company, is budgeting about $50 of his own money per week for the campaign. He’s also relying heavily on in-kind contributions, accepting nearly $2,000 worth of goods and services such as photocopying and printing, according to his most recent state campaign finance report. His fiancée, a graphic designer, put together his website and he uses Facebook ads to complement traditional flyers and campaign posters.
Connolly has been endorsed by Cambridge City Councilor Craig Kelly, but he admits that other political professionals are skeptical about his chances. He says they have told him that voters would take him more seriously if he went out and raised money. “Many of them think it’s an uphill battle to say the least,” he says.
Connolly’s role model is Lowell Mayor Patrick Murphy, who has run three similar types of campaigns. He lost a bid for Congress, but came out on top in two successive races for an at-large city council seat in 2009 and 2011. Murphy used his run for office to collect donations for local charities such as the Merrimack Valley Food Bank. He dipped into his personal funds for his first city council race.
Murphy, who has been offering tips to Connolly, believes that a candidate’s success in a local race depends on how much work he or she wants to put in knocking on doors, meeting voters, and convincing them to get to the polls. In Lowell, there are about 50,000 registered voters to reach out to for an at-large race, so a smaller district like Connolly’s has its advantages. “A state representative district is entirely doable,” Murphy says.
There are about 20,000 registered voters in the 26th Middlesex District, where in 2010 Toomey ran unopposed and won handily, capturing 9,637 of the 11,657 votes cast.
Connolly reckons he needs about 6,000 votes to win