A FranckTalk tipster pointed me to a mailer apparently paid for by Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) in support of Cambridge Councilor Leland Cheung’s state senate campaign. The language on the mailer bears a strong resemblance to verbiage found on Cheung’s campaign website – and there seems to be a good reason for that.
Cheung and DFER, separate entities that are not allowed to communicate, share the same consulting firm.
— Sam Tracy (@TheSamTracy) August 27, 2016
Since it’s an Independent Expenditure PAC, DFER cannot coordinate with the candidates they support. If you want to get technical about it, the Code of Massachusetts Regulations says, “an independent expenditure PAC makes all of its expenditures without cooperating or consulting with any political committee other than another independent expenditure PAC.”
Don’t break out your magnifying glass, here’s the text of the mailer:
Somerville, Medford, Cambridge and Winchester need a header who recognizes the urgency of making the right investments today for a better future for our children. Leland Cheung has spent his career with his eye on the future, using his experience with new technologies and innovative ideas to tackle the challenges he faces as a Cambridge City Councilor.
Leland has been a leader on:
Increasing affordable housing for low and moderate income residents
Improving government transparency and resident engagement
Investing in a public broadband network
Fighting for our children’s future through environmental sustainability
Bringing taxpayer money back from a big overseas bank to a local community bank
On his website, Cheung promises to be a leader who “is in touch with tomorrow, and who “brings a sense of urgency to the challenges we’re tackling today.” The DFER mailer says the district “needs a leader who recognizes the urgency of making the right investments today for a better future for our children.” Those lines are similar, but not not identical.
The bullet points, however, appear to spring directly from this introductory paragraph on the candidate’s website:
“When I won I was thrilled to put my experiences in the entrepreneurial ecosystem to work improving the lives of residents on issues big and small. Improving government transparency by introducing Participatory Budgeting, which allows residents to submit proposals and vote directly on how our city spends money. Addressing housing head on by increasing the amount of affordable units we’re building. Fighting for local retail and vibrant main streets. Bringing taxpayer dollars back from a big overseas bank to a local community bank. And after Governor Patrick appointed me to the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, investing in a public broadband network I’d like to stretch across our Commonwealth.”
If nothing else, you could say that the people who wrote DFER’s mailer did a remarkable job of mimicking Cheung’s campaign messaging. That might be because there appears to be significant overlap between Cheung’s campaign consultants and DFER’s.
Since 2014, the DFER’s Treasurer has been Rebecca Rutenberg. She has been a longtime consultant for Cheung’s campaign committee, receiving money from them as recently as last November, according to OCPF.
Notice the email address listed above is for Sage Systems. Sage recently became the Novus Group. If you’re following OCPF reports as closely as I do, then you already know the punch line. For those who don’t, Novus works for DFER and a big chunk of Cheung’s suitcases of money will go to them for, among other things, designing direct mail pieces like the one above.
On their website, Novus counts DFER among their “success stories.”
Cheung also cut Novus a $9,000 check last October, according to OCPF records. Cheung does not appear to have paid Novus for their services since last year, opting instead to go with a group called MLM Strategies.
MLM Strategies uses the same address as the Novus Group and the president of MLM Strategies, Meredith Moghimi, is listed of the Novus Group’s staff page.
The rules say that an Independent Expenditure PAC like DFER must do its thing without “cooperating or consulting” with the political committee of the candidates they’re trying to help. I’m not lawyer, but it’s hard to imagine how the same consulting group can work on both sides of a campaign finance firewall without cooperating or consulting with themselves just a little.