Money, endorsements flowing in 1st Congressional race

  • Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, left, and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield. GAZETTE FILE PHOTOS

  • Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, left, and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield. GAZETTE FILE PHOTOS

Staff Writer
Published: 8/21/2020 3:00:03 PM
Modified: 8/21/2020 2:59:50 PM

HOLYOKE — Money is flowing into the 1st Congressional District as the Democratic primary race for the U.S. House seat approaches on Sept. 1.

In new filings with the Federal Election Commission, incumbent U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, and his challenger, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, detailed their fundraising and spending for the period from July 1 through Aug. 12. And for the first time, Morse, who is relying almost exclusively on individual donors, outraised Neal, the top recipient of corporate cash in the U.S. House.

In addition to that fundraising, outside groups have thus far spent $2.16 million in the district. The race pits the establishment-backed Neal, who has held the seat since 1989 and chairs the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, against Morse, who is running a campaign from the left on issues like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.

Morse pulled in $475,846 during the period, all but $4,500 of which came from individual donors. Neal raised $367,405, 68% of which came from political committees such as PACs. Neal spent $1.8 million during the period, leaving him with $2.76 million cash on hand. Morse spent $494,335 during the period, leaving him with $296,724 cash on hand.

Morse’s campaign said he received 11,500 donations during the period, 97% of which the campaign said were donations of less than $200. Among those making small-dollar donations were Morse political appointees and city officials such as Navae Fenwick Rodriguez, executive director of the Holyoke Council on Aging; Marcos Marrero, the city’s director of planning and economic development; and Health Commission chairwoman Patricia Mertes.

Neal received $115,997 from individuals, but most of his money came from political action committees, or PACs, which can give $5,000 per calendar year to a candidate. That means that the maximum a PAC could give during this election cycle is $10,000.

PACs that have reached that $10,000 maximum with contributions to Neal this period include health care company Abbott Laboratories, the American Resort Development Association, the American Society of Anesthesiologists, Fidelity Investments, medical device maker Medtronic and utility holding company Pinnacle West Capital. Neal received $5,000 donations from PACs representing the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the Congressional Black Caucus, the National Rural Electric Cooperative, Procter & Gamble and others.

Neal spent $1.3 million on ad buys through the Northampton-based firm Horgan Associates during the period. He spent another $85,000 on media and survey consulting, almost $155,000 on printing and mailing, and many thousands more on wages for people he hired across the district.

Morse, meanwhile, used most of the cash that he spent during the period with media consultants and strategists, who he paid $367,529.

Outside groups are also spending big in the race, according to campaign finance filings.

Progressive groups backing Morse have spent $367,334 boosting Morse and $575,000 opposing Neal. The group Fight Corporate Monopolies, for example, has spent $325,000 on television ads hitting Neal on his ties to corporate donors. Justice Democrats and Indivisible Action have spent $250,000 and $277,111 respectively. And the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which endorsed Morse, has spent $90,223.

Outside groups have spent $603,301 supporting Neal and $617,450 opposing Morse. The super PAC Democratic Majority for Israel and the super PAC American Working Families have spent a combined $565,450 on a television ad knocking Morse on his attendance record at School Committee meetings. The American Hospital Association and the American College of Radiology — both of which oppose Medicare for All, which Morse supports — have spent $540,203 to help Neal, and the National Association of Realtors spent $63,098.

Both candidates have been busy picking up endorsements. Neal has secured the backing of prominent figures in the Democratic Party, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the recently deceased civil rights leader U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, and recently from former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank, the former chair of the House Financial Services Committee.

In a statement sent to reporters, Frank took issue with Morse’s suggestion that Neal had a role in the allegations made against him. Frank said Neal was an ally to him during media scrutiny of his own sex life in the late ‘80s.

“I am disappointed by suggestions that he is in any way to blame for Mayor Morse’s situation, or that he has done or said anything in this campaign — or at any other time in the 32 years that I have known him — that reflects or exploits anti-LGBT prejudice,” Frank said. “My hope that he is re-elected is based primarily on my appreciation of his effective, thoughtful advocacy of liberal positions.”

Morse has been endorsed by a handful of prominent progressive groups, such as the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats. He also picked up a recent endorser who defended him from an attack Neal has made, just as Frank defended Neal.

On Thursday, recently departed Holyoke schools receiver-superintendent Steve Zrike defended Morse’s record amid Neal attacks on his absence from School Committee meetings. Zrike said he had “regular communication” with Morse during the five years he led the district. He said the biggest struggles in the city’s schools result from racial divides between the city’s predominantly Hispanic youth and “a significantly older population that is predominately white” who are “united by a nostalgia for days past.”

“Unfortunately, some of these same people believe that the good times of the past were a result of absence; absence of poverty, absence of addiction, and absence of people of color,” Zrike said. “They treat absence and division as a path to renewed prosperity, a dangerous proposition. Mayor Morse has never caved to this belief despite significant public pressure to do so.”

Voters head to the polls on Sept. 1, though mail-in voting is underway in the state already. The deadline to register to vote is this Saturday, Aug. 22 at 8 p.m. Early voting will take place Aug. 22 through Aug. 28. The 1st Congressional District includes all of Berkshire County, all of Hampden County except for one precinct in Palmer, and parts of Franklin, Hampshire and Worcester counties.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at


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