Retiring lawmakers look to charities to empty campaign coffers

  • The Massachusetts State House in Boston

Staff Writer
Published: 12/18/2018 11:39:32 PM

Leaving office after one term as state representative for the 3rd Hampshire District, Solomon Goldstein-Rose is making sure three nonprofits whose goals include excellence in education in Amherst, improving Massachusetts elections and combating climate change will benefit financially.

With $4,542.70 remaining in his campaign account as of Oct. 19, and understanding that he wouldn’t be seeking reelection, Goldstein-Rose, who unenrolled from the Democratic Party earlier this year, chose to donate $1,000 to the Amherst Education Foundation, $1,542.70 to Voter Choice Massachusetts and $1,500 to Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

“That’s one local organization, one state organization and one national organization on the issues I had campaigned on,” Goldstein-Rose said.

The decision on how and when candidates close out their accounts is one that comes at some point for most legislators, elected state officials and candidates for office in Massachusetts when they opt not to seek re-election, retire or resign — or are defeated at the ballot box.

Like Goldstein-Rose, Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, who failed in her Democratic primary bid to unseat longtime U.S. Congressman Richard Neal, chose to give her money to charity — in her case, 35 nonprofit organizations.

But Jason Tait, a spokesman for the state’s office of Campaigns and Political Finance, said there is no obligation for a legislator who has left office or been defeated for election to immediately close the account and disburse funds.

“When a candidate is no longer in office, he or she can keep a campaign account active, so long as they might run again in the future,” Tait said.

For those who do choose to close their war chests, state law mandates that any residual funds must be given to a charity, a scholarship fund, the state or a municipality, Tait said.

For Reps. John Scibak, D-South Hadley, and Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, who have served 15 and 26 years, respectively, they are focused more on clearing out their offices at the Statehouse than figuring out what will happen to their accounts, observing that they have discovered retirement is time-consuming.

“Frankly, I haven’t decided what I’m going to do yet, but I do intend to close it out,” Scibak said. “We don’t get to keep the money for our own personal use.”

At the end of 2017, the most recent report, Scibak had $32,863,82 on hand. The next reporting deadline is Jan. 20, and another report would have to be filed if his account is not closed by the end of December.

Scibak observed that some keep their campaign coffers open because they are considering running for elective office again, though he will be moving to Florida in retirement, and has no interest in undertaking any campaigns in the future. “I will not be running for office in Florida, or in Massachusetts,” Scibak said.

Scibak has not identified which charities or organizations might benefit when he closes his account, but said he would try to support ones that have a commitment to his values. He observed that in all four of the communities he serves — South Hadley, Easthampton, Hadley and Granby — schools or senior centers are being built that could benefit from donations.

Kulik said he has not had a chance to look at the state law and regulations, though he understands charities and scholarships, and political contributions within specific limits, are allowed for spending from the account.

“I am going to spend down my balance over time on contributions and donations to organizations in the area,” Kulik said.

Kulik said that until July he will continue to be involved in the State Agriculture and Rural Leaders group, and that is a legitimate expense on which he will use campaign money.

Former Sen. Stanley Rosenberg left office in May, filing a report for the end of 2017 showing that he had $452,111.81 on hand. Like Scibak and Kulik, Rosenberg said he intends to keep his campaign account open for the time being.

Other accounts that have closed in recent years from local legislators include late state Rep. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, and retired state Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst. Kocot’s campaign filed a report before the account was dissolved Oct. 13 showing that it still had $8,550.70 in it. Of this, $6,000 went to Seth Mias Catering for an after-funeral gathering for family and constituents. In addition, $100 went to Diana Szynal’s campaign to succeed him, $643.93 was used for office cellphones, and $1,806.77 went toward reimbursments and a liability.

When Story retired, she still had $3,502.83 in her account, with $1,437.53 given to the Hilltown Community Health Centers, $250 to the Amherst Area Education Foundation and $200 to the Martin Luther King Committee of Amherst.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com


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