Outside Spending Groups Are Back for the Special Elections

Nope, it wasn't just a one-time thing for the mayoral election.

After making much noise in last year’s Boston elections, outside spending groups have returned—in a relatively small but potentially important way—for the special elections coming next week.

Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) Massachusetts, which spent heavily in support of mayoral candidate John Connolly, has just reported spending $15,000 to help state senate candidate Chris Fallon, and $4,270 to help Dorchester state representative candidate John O’Toole. Both were primarily for direct mail.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association, which has a long tradition of independent expenditures in state legislative contests, reported $2,533 spent for Jason Lewis, who is Fallon’s opponent in the March 4 Democratic primary.

And a few days ago, the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts reported spending roughly $5,000 each in support of Fallon, and state representative candidates Roselee Vincent, of Revere, and Daniel Ryan, of Charlestown. The Vincent and Fallon spending went to digital ads; for Ryan, they group bought ad time on the local Univision station, presumably to reach the Hispanic voters in the Chelsea part of the district.

These numbers, even if they grow in the final days before the election, pale next to the independent expenditures spent by DFER and others in the Boston mayoral race. But they are significant compared with what the campaigns themselves have to spend. O’Toole, for example, had raised some $15,000 as of mid-February, according to reports filed with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. Fallon had less than $10,000 left in his account at that time.

No real surprise here—and no reason why such groups shouldn’t spend under the existing rules to help candidates they support.

But it’s just a useful reminder that if you thought the issue of independent expenditures had been a one-time phenomenon triggered by the unusual mayoral election, you’ve got a big shock coming in the 2014 state elections.