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Voices: Back Story

News you have to ask for

Murray letter released only on request

BY: Bruce Mohl
LT. GOV. TIM MURRAY took another pounding last week for what was essentially old news.

On September 19, the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance sent a letter to Attorney General Martha Coakley reporting that it had evidence that Murray had violated campaign finance laws. It took four months for the referral letter to surface because of one of those peculiarities of Massachusetts state government: Referral letters are public documents, but the Office of Campaign and Political Finance doesn’t release them to the public unless someone asks for them.

The policy is spelled out in a campaign finance office internal memorandum.  “The office has concluded that the balance between effective law enforcement during an investigation and the public’s right to know after OCPF has completed an investigation will be better served by a policy that confirms the fact that a matter has been referred to the attorney general,” the memo states.

What that means is that the office will turn over a referral letter if someone asks for it. Otherwise, it’s kept confidential.

The State House News Service asked for the Murray referral letter last week in a roundabout way. The News Service was doing a story on US Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s complaint against former Chelsea housing director Michael McLaughlin. As part of its report, the News Service noted that Murray had asked the state campaign finance office to investigate allegations that McLaughlin had improperly solicited donations for him.

The News Service asked Jason Tait, the spokesman for the campaign finance office, what happened to that investigation. According to the news service story, Tait said “no such investigation has been completed, and said he could not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation. Tait said that if an investigation was complete, it should be public.”

A couple hours later, Tait called back and said he had done some additional checking and learned the investigation had been completed. He also handed over the September 19 referral letter, which prompted a fresh story by the News Service and front-page headlines across the state. Few bothered to explain why the letter was surfacing four months after being written. The Globe said the letter “was first made available Thursday,” without saying who made it available or why.
I wondered whether there were other referral letters that had not been disclosed because no one knew to ask, so I asked Tait for all of the agency’s referral letters from the last couple years. There were only three: the Murray letter; a January 23, 2012, letter regarding campaign irregularities by Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua that has been reported in the press, and a previously undisclosed January 10, 2011, letter regarding former state rep Paul Kujawski of Webster.

The Kujawski letter said the representative had failed to properly document $44,140 in campaign expenditures for his leased car between 2007 and 2010, suggesting “the expenditures were made in part for his, or another person’s, personal use.” The letter also noted that Kujawski  in 2007 had reached a settlement covering earlier campaign finance violations.

Brad Puffer, a spokesman for Coakley, said the attorney general reviews all referrals from the campaign finance office and either pursues a civil disposition, a criminal prosecution, or no action at all. Reviews of the Lantigua and Murray letters are ongoing. As for the Kujawski referral, Puffer said: “After review of this matter, our office determined that we would not take any further action.”
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