To The Speaker And President, The Spoils

This is the first non-election year in which Massachusetts state legislators must report campaign finances in mid-year, under new reporting rules passed in 2009. That still keeps the contributions and expenditures hidden during the budget process, but reveals them pretty shortly after, so that's a start. Plus, it gives dorks like me a lot of numbers to play with during the dog days of summer.

Those reports, covering January through June, were due yesterday. A few on the house side are still missing, and I'm sure a number of those submitted contain errors that will be corrected through amended reports in coming days. But for the most part, the data is now in.

I see a couple of interesting broad storylines to note, before I've had a chance to really dig into them in detail. So here's one: the senate president and house speaker seem to be showing that they have established their dominance, and intend to be around for a while.

This may seem like a 'well, duh' observation, but I think the scope of it is interesting. First, here are some numbers. These are the top 10 fundraisers in each chamber in the first six months of 2011, according to the reports in so far.


1) Therese Murray     $237,643

2) Benjamin Downing     $88,814

3) Barry Finegold     $68,760

4) Anthony Petruccelli     $64,868

5) Jack Hart     $63,410

6) Sal DiDomenico     $55,993

7) Steve Baddour     $53,148

8) Michael Moore     $52,780

9) Steven Tolman     $52,570

10) Marc Pacheco     $48,475


1) Robert DeLeo     $350,189

2) Charles Murphy     $96,380 

3) Ronald Mariano     $62,500

4) Michael Moran     $50,585

5) John Keenan     $46,333

6) Thomas Petrolati     $45,727

7) Nick Collins     $41,981 

8) Paul Donato     $41,607 

9) Garrett Bradley     $41,020

10) Michael Costello     $40,550

Those are some pretty staggering gaps between #1 and #2, on both sides. It's not so much that everyone else is vastly under-performing, it's mostly that the leaders are killin' it. Both DeLeo and Murray are already roughly 75% of the way to their entire two-year haul in the 2010 cycle.

(Bear in mind that the incredibly low contribution limits in Massachusetts -- $500 for most people & PACs, $200 for lobbyists -- makes it very difficult to raise sums of money that in other places would be much easier.)

Part of it is that the two current leaders are really, really good fundraisers. DeLeo, in fact, raised more money in the 2010 cycle ($462,000) than any legislative candidate, in either chamber, in any cycle going back to at least 1992, according to OCPF reports -- discounting Tom Birmingham's $1.3 million in 2000, which was really gubernatorial-race money.

And Murray clearly wants to be well-stocked for battle, after barely surviving a Republican challenge last year who she outspent 10-to-1, draining her account.

This interpretation would strongly suggest that she's planning to run again in 2012. And that's what I think the big takeaway is here: Murray and DeLeo want to make clear that they're going to be around and in charge for a while.

There is always, with any legislative leaders in this state, constant speculation about them leaving. People theorize about it to me constantly: Murray is planning her exit strategy so she can go make money; DeLeo wants to get out before such-and-such time. Such talk undermines their authority, and encourages wannabe-successors to build their own power bases (which often involves spending money, which requires raising money).

DeLeo made a big move early this year, by shifting the two members most clearly angling to succeed him. He demoted Jim Vallee from the top leadership team, and moved Charlie Murphy from Ways & Means Chair to Majority Whip. The moves were at least partly to tamp down the "after-DeLeo" positioning -- and that would seem to be reflected in these numbers. Murphy had a strong showing, but a drop from the equivalent six months of 2009. Meanwhile, the newly promoted folks -- like new Ways and Means Chair Brian Dempsey -- kept their head down and didn't try to cash in right away.

Over on the senate side, part of what happened was the departure of much of the leadership team. But it's notable that last fall, people were saying that Murray would use the apponting of a new team to signal her prefered successor. Had that been the case, we might have expected to see a powerful new #2 on the above list -- much as Murray herself did upon becoming Bob Travaglini's Ways & Means Chair, and DeLeo did upon getting that position under DiMasi. Certainly new Ways & Means Chair Stephen Brewer's $26,000 take doesn't indicate that. Downing, who takes the second spot, is a strong up-and-comer but didn't get one of those vacant top positions.

Also worth noting that, with some top veterans leaving and others who faced re-election challenges, senate members ended the 2010 cycle without stashed booty. Aside from the eternal Mark Montigny and his $1 million war chest, the next biggest balance was Brewer's, with $161,000 -- and only three other senate Democrats started this cycle with at least $100,000.

I guess what I'm saying is, there don't seem to currently be many really power bases in the legislature, below the two mammoth ones. (And, I might argue that Murphy's haul demonstrates that he maintains a position of strength.) That may be in the process of changing, but it's worth noting.

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