Yes It’s Corrupt: Marty Money and Connolly Cash

The other day I posted AFT Proud and argued that the American Federation of Teachers secret half-million dollar expenditure on behalf of Marty Walsh’s campaign for mayor of Boston should be considered an emblem of a corrupt campaign finance system. Some fellow Twitterers were dismayed that I would use the word corruption but I stand by the word and its meaning.

In writing AFT Proud I had in mind Michael Sandel’s book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. Sandel writes that the idea of markets has come to dominate our approach to many issues that should not be relegated to market calculations. “Putting a price on the good things in life can corrupt them.”

Foremost among our good things in this country is a democracy in which each citizen has an equal voice. But our campaign finance system has created a market in offices. How much for a mayor of Boston? To the AFT a mayor of Boston is worth $480,000. As we read in today’s Boston Globe story No part in Walsh ad, teachers say by reporter Wesley Lowery, a Boston mayor is worth $1.3 million to the group Democrats for Education Reform, which backed Connolly. And on and on. A market in democracy is not democracy.

Twitter doesn’t lend itself to much discourse so I’m not sure what my friends argue is not corrupt about these campaign finance practices. Some political scientists have gone beyond what is purely legal to consider other practices that might be considered politically corrupt – actions hidden from the public for instance. So in addition to AFT Proud let’s see what Mr. Lowery’s No part in Walsh ad, teachers say has to inform us about actions the interests have decided voters should not know.

First, it turns out that the Boston Teachers Union knew nothing, nothing (cue the Sergeant Schultz imitation) about its national parent involving itself in a local race. However, BTU president Richard Stutman personally endorsed Walsh at the last minute.  But here’s the real quote from the story, the one I love so much:

“It’s remarkable that both the AFT and BTU calculated that a public endorsement would hurt Walsh,” said Liam Kerr, the state director Democrats for Education Reform, which spent more than $1.3 million on behalf of Connolly. . . . In addition to Democrats for Education Reform, which is funded in large part by a New York nonprofit that does not disclose its donors . . .

That’s right, Mr. Kerr who sat atop $1.3 million in clandestine Connolly cash, attacks the teacher’s unions for mystery Marty money.

When AFT president Randi Weingarten was pressed on Twitter about why the union did not disclose its investment at a time when voters could at least assess the interests involved, again according to Lowery, Weingarten responded “No req’t to disclose. … This was abt Marty Walsh’s record helping working people.”

The money is secret but the chutzpah, balls, cujones, (your adjective here) are right there. Amazing. You can’t make this stuff up.

Yes, I stand behind the word corrupt. We don’t have a democracy, we have a campaign finance farce-cracy.



About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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12 Responses to Yes It’s Corrupt: Marty Money and Connolly Cash

  1. Ed Lyons says:

    Professor Cunningham,

    Stand your ground!

    Of course it is corrupt. People often confuse the meaning of the word with illegality. In fact, for the sake of your readers, the word is sourced in ideas about ethics, morality, and purity. Honesty also plays a role.

    Mysterious cash far from eligible voters is clearly a corruption of the vision for and principles of representative government. Even those who believe that money is speech and support the major features of our campaign finance system would be hard-pressed to defend what the AFT has done. For years, apologists have said that immediate transparency and watchdog oversight would mitigate the negative effects of corporate campaign spending.

    But I would ask them this: what would you call corporate spending that is designed not only to evade transparency, but also to be impossible for the watchdogs to sniff out? Even from their perspective, what has happened must be called corrupt.

  2. Jeff Semon says:

    Professor Mo,
    I contend that there is no way to keep money (the kind you speak of anyway) out of politics……and to attempt to do so infringes on 1st amendment rights. The Supreme Court got it right.

    Obviously you want disclosure. A point where we would agree.

    Do you contend there should be limits (in the varied forms) to spending by groups? If so, how is this legislated? Do they not have the right to spend as they wish as long s it is disclosed?

    It seems that any attempts to hamper political influence spawn even further egregious abuse of the system. See 501c4, 3s.

    Your thoughts? Clarification.
    Happy New Year!

  3. Joel T Patterson says:

    Also, your 2nd “AFT Proud” link is broken.

  4. Maurice T. Cunningham says:

    We did once effectively regulate political money though, from the 70s on; at least far more effectively than we do now. Money is money; it is not speech. Nor are corporations people. Obviously we have gotten far away from any effective restraint on money in politics, and I hope and would assume wiser heads than mine are seeking ways to effectively address this. Before we even get there though Jeff, I hope you and I do agree that voters should know who is buying TV ads, etc. I can’t conceptualize a real democracy though where money rules over people.

    Joel, I think the link is fixed, I hope so.

    Thanks to Ed as usual for a thoughtful post and recognition that the idea of corruption can be considered broadly. In another forum a friend argued that it isn’t corruption if it isn’t illegal. That can’t be right though. Sandel is on to something there.

    Finally I would like to acknowledge that in other areas today I’ve had lively exchanges with two other thoughtful people. Liam Kerr didn’t much care for my characterization of his comments in the Globe today and I hope we agreed to disagree in a respectful manner. Judy Meredith didn’t like the headline at all and again, we disagree but most respectfully. I certainly meant no disparagement to either Mayor-elect Walsh or former councilor Connolly or their campaigns.

    • Jeff Semon says:

      I believe I stated my support of disclosure earlier. However, corporations -like unions – are groups of people who have the right to assemble and spend their funds as they wish in their own interest.

      It is up to the people to hold their elected representatives responsible either way.

      Sounds like someone got an email from a Mayoral campaign…….

  5. Maurice T. Cunningham says:


    Thanks again for the comments. The other forums were on linkedin, FB, Twitter. I’m an open book.

    Happy new year!


  6. @newaitress says:

    The story which never written regarding the Boston mayoral campaign is that candidates were stuck with ridiculously low contribution limits that would necessarily force anyone mounting a credible campaign to take outside funds.

    The maximum contribution to a city candidate in Boston is $500. The maximum in New York City is more than quadruple that at $2650 and ten times that in Chicago. Campaigns cost money; you have to pay staff salaries, rent office space, print direct mail, and buy ad space on television. A political campaign is a not-for-profit entity as they aren’t selling goods or services to bring in funds. They have no existing endowments. The only way campaigns can function is to ask for money.

    Raising money in $500 increments only is simply prohibitive.

  7. Jonathan says:

    Happy New Year to the Mass Political Profs Nation!:

    I may be mistaken – but my understanding is that campaigns are for profit entities. I defer to the ultimate authority on such matters, the PTA:

    I agree — there should be required disclosure on all this stuff. No argument here.

    However, if a group of like minded citizens wish to “associate” and combine funds and contribute a reasonable amount as an entity – I have no problem with that either. It has to be disclosed, and have limits.

    I also think the Mayor – Elect carefully chose NOT to unilaterally disarm against his heavily funded opponent. And that is a good thing.

    Citizens United is a horrid decision, I agree. But I remain more concerned with the attack on the Voting Rights Act. The two taken together are more daunting.

  8. Maurice T. Cunningham says:

    newaitress you are absolutely correct — the $500 contribution limit is an ancient artifact and must be raised. I much prefer to see funds in the hands of the candidates, fully disclosed. We do get to hold them accountable in a way we never do with the AFT — when we find out it was the AFT — or other moneyed interests who remain hidden still.

    Jonathon I agree with you on VRA and hope you read my colleague Erin O’Brien’s work on voter suppression. Thanks for reading and your well wishes to MPP Nation!

    • @newaitress says:

      Until the SCOTUS overturns Buckley, and to my knowledge it hasn’t, money will still in part be considered speech.

      You should study how the Commonwealth of Virginia operates. State races have no contribution limits and anyone can give. They mandate full disclosure at $100 and the reporting requirements for large contributions increase in frequency as election day approaches. It is a very healthy atmosphere and I’m surprised more cities and states don’t use it.

  9. Maurice T. Cunningham says:

    newaitress thanks for the tip on VA — not my scholarly field so glad to know what is working elsewhere. Disclosure looks good at this point. Until something is done about that Citizens United, democracy is at the mercy of money.

  10. Pingback: Battle for Democracy: New Populism vs. Dark Money |

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