By Michael Norton and Matt Murphy
State House News Service
---- — BOSTON - State regulators found evidence that Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and his campaign committee did not comply with campaign finance laws and referred the matter last September to Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office.
In a Sept. 19 letter, Office of Campaign and Political Finance Director Michael Sullivan informed Coakley that his office had concluded that evidence indicated that former Chelsea Housing Authority employees Michael McLaughlin and James McNichols did not comply with laws prohibiting political fundraising by public employees and banning political fundraising in public buildings.
McLaughlin, 67, of Dracut, was Methuen Town Manager from 1990 to 1992.
“The evidence also indicates that McLaughlin, Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray and the Citizens Committee to Elect Tim Murray did not comply with” campaign finance laws governing the solicitation or receipt of contributions, Sullivan wrote in his letter.
Sullivan also “referred for violations” of campaign finance laws Carolyn Leary, Brendan Moran and David Martin, identifying those individuals as having “served as Committee treasurer during the relevant period.”
All of the individuals were notified of OCPF’s intention to refer the matter to Coakley’s office and each person, except for McLaughlin, requested a hearing prior to referral and hearings were held in response to those requests.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz on Wednesday charged McLaughlin with four counts of falsifying a record with the intent to obstruct a federal agency by lying about his salary. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison but legal experts believe the nature of the complaint against him indicates a potential plea deal.
A spokesman for Murray said he did not know whether Murray has sat down with OCPF officials, but Murray met with state and federal investigators in June to discuss the allegations against McLaughlin. Scott Ferson, the lieutenant governor’s political spokesman, emphasized that the Worcester Democrat asked for the OCPF investigation in order to return any contributions that may have been procured illegally.
“The lieutenant governor asked for this investigation by OCPF and has fully cooperated and wants to get to the bottom of it. If somebody did something and a contribution should be returned we want to know that. What we know from yesterday is that Mike McLaughlin deceived a lot of people and no one is more upset by his behavior than the lieutenant governor,” Ferson said.
After ramping up fundraising last year and expressing serious interest in running for governor in 2014, Murray announced last week that he would not try to succeed Gov. Deval Patrick, who is not seeking reelection. Murray said family considerations drove his decision not to run for governor.
Attorney General Martha Coakley said on Wednesday that her office would continue to investigate whether McLaughlin committed additional state violations. “As we’ve acknowledged, the issues raised in this letter are under investigation, and as a result we cannot comment further at this time,” said Brad Puffer, a spokesman for Coakley, in response Thursday to questions about the referral and who might be the target of the investigation.
McLaughlin resigned after it was revealed that he lied about his compensation in the annual fiscal budgets of the Chelsea Housing Authority from 2008 to 2011, and submitted those records to the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development.
McLaughlin’s fundraising ties to Murray have been called into question. The Boston Globe reported extensively about McLaughlin’s alleged fundraising for Murray and their exchange of nearly 200 phone calls with him in 2010 and 2011.
In January 2011, Murray described himself as “outraged and frustrated by Mr. McLaughlin's actions” and said he felt “misled.” Murray also said, "I never asked him, nor am I aware of anybody in my fundraising campaign, my political campaign staff or my fundraising staff asking him to raise money or soliciting things, so when we read these anonymous allegations it's concerning." He said he asked OCPF to investigate "because if people were pressured or solicited to give we want to know who that is and return dollars."
At the time, Murray also said, "I wish I had known more, maybe asked more, but as candidates for elected office and elected officials people volunteer, they offer to help and you take people at face value."
Murray’s call on OCPF to look into the situation followed a Boston Globe report, based on both named and unnamed sources, including sources the newspaper described as more than two dozen politicians, housing authority employees, and Murray campaign workers.
The article detailed what appeared to be a close political relationship between Murray and McLaughlin and suggested that McLaughlin helped organize fundraisers for Murray's campaign for lieutenant governor, and may have coerced employees from the Chelsea Housing Authority to donate to Murray.