MassGOP officials say the party should not be on the hook for its whopping $600,000 debt, pointing to an audit that shows losing Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl’s campaign is responsible for a majority of the charges.
Party Chair Amy Carnevale said the bulk, or $404,000 of the $602,000 in unpaid invoices she inherited from past Chair Jim Lyons are from advertising and media-related expenses authorized and signed by the Diehl campaign, “but incredibly were billed well after Election Day to the MassGOP.”
“Not on my watch,” Carnevale said in a Friday email to state Republicans. “We are auditing all these invoices to determine who is ultimately responsible for paying them because we have not received sufficient documentation from the vendor.”
The majority of these charges were for radio and television ads related to the governor’s race, according to MassGOP Executive Director John Milligan. The audit, he said, will differentiate between what expenses the party is liable for, which includes appearances authorized and hosted by MassGOP, and what Diehl’s campaign should pay for.
“There will be some amount of that $404,000 that the party is liable for,” Carnevale, who defeated Lyons for party leadership in January, told the Herald. “But it’s clear that a significant amount of that expense is Diehl-related, that should never have been billed to the MassGOP in the first place.”
Diehl and Lyons did not respond to a request for comment.
While on a “much smaller scale,” Milligan said a similar situation occurred with other Republican candidates, for state senator and representative, in the past election cycle.
Between those campaigns, the party was billed a total of $29,500 by Mittcom, the same vendor that sent the unpaid invoices for Diehl, he said.
The remainder of the party’s “enormous debt,” as described by Friday’s email, is due to issues with how the party handled candidate payment for coordinated mail, Milligan said.
Since MassGOP has an “indicia,” a marking that is used as a substitute for stamps, candidates will direct the businesses that design and print their campaign mail to bill the party, to receive its bulk mail discount.
Candidates will then send a check to MassGOP to cover those printing costs, Milligan said, “but what ended up happening here is that the money that was coming in from candidates was spent in other ways,” rather than going toward paying those small businesses.
“In this case, it’s not that what happened was in violation of any campaign finance law to my knowledge, but the candidates did give the money to the party with an expectation that their printers would be paid,” Milligan said.
Expenses the audit deems are not the party’s responsibility, however, will not be paid by MassGOP, he said. It will likely be up to the vendor, Mittcom, to redirect those invoices to the campaigns that authorized the payment.
Carnevale and Milligan are clear, though, on blaming former Chair Lyons, for saddling the party with its massive debt.
There are always leftover invoices when there’s a transition in party leadership, but Milligan said everyone he’s spoken to, whether from the Republican National Committee, state parties or vendors, “are continually shocked by the situation that we’ve been left with.”
“I would say that it’s definitely difficult,” Milligan said. “I think some donors are skittish about giving money to an organization to basically pay off what they see as other people’s debt. So that definitely is impacting us.”
The party is back in the black, for now, Carnevale said, thanks to $100,000 raised in March by MassGOP donors.
Carnevale said the party is also working with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance to audit invoices shared between the MassGOP and dozens of campaign committees, regarding $300,000 in spending that was misreported during the last campaign cycle.
This will require “scores of candidates” to amend their OCPF filings along with the party, work that Carnevale described as “ongoing but nearing conclusion.”
Further, Carnevale, for the first time, recommended that Republican State Committee members take the advice of outside counsel Brian Kelly, and vote to dismiss a lawsuit Lyons filed against MassGOP Treasurer Patrick Crowley last year, for control of the party’s bank account.
The lawsuit is the only one that remains of the four Carnevale said she inherited from the former chair, all of which involved using MassGOP finances to pursue inter-party litigation.
In the past, Carnevale said her position had been to let State Committee members determine whether to continue with the remaining litigation. But she said she decided to make her view known because continued litigation would result in “serious and significant” consequences for the party.
It’s time to get “past the cycle of Republicans suing Republicans,” she said, and focus on elections.
“This is a painful circumstance we inherited, and it will not be easy to resolve,” Carnevale said.