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WVN Newsletter #173: Permanent campaign groups?

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dear Wayland Voter, After outspending opponents nearly 4 to 1 to champion the recent property tax override, the Save Our Services group seems to be planning
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 6, 2006
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      Dear Wayland Voter,


      After outspending opponents nearly 4 to 1 to champion the
      recent property tax override, the Save Our Services group seems
      to be planning something like a permanent campaign.

      Recent activities and required financial disclosures lend support
      to accusations of "class warfare," blur the lines between various
      activist groups and increase the likelihood of avoiding campaign
      expenditure disclosures. Further divisiveness in Wayland could
      be a likely result.

      SOS reported spending $14,365 before the April 25 vote in
      which 55 percent of voters approved the $2.1 million override
      which you see reflected in your latest tax bill. The opposition
      group, Responsible Spending Voters Project (RSVP), reported
      spending $3,874. Details suggest striking demographic
      differences between the groups.

      The largest contribution to RSVP was $270. Only five donating
      households surpassed the $50 limit requiring reporting to the
      town clerk. All of the identified donations came from Precincts 1
      and 4 (roughly speaking, North Wayland and some of the
      Mainstone area). Anonymous donations of $50 or less came to
      $2,454, nearly two-thirds of the total.

      SOS received eight donations of $1,000 each. Identified
      donations of 37 families accounted for 93 percent of the total
      spent. Except for three families on High Rock Road in the
      Woodridge area, all of the identified donations came from
      precincts 1 and 4. Anonymous donations of $50 or less totaled
      only $1,000.

      SOS received at least 20 anonymous donations of $50 or less.
      RSVP received at least 50.

      Donors of more than $200 are required to disclose occupation
      and employer. RSVP donors in that category are listed as
      self-employed or retired.

      Listed employers of SOS donors include IR&N, Cedar Tree LLC,
      Charlesbank Capital, Parthenon Group, Commonwealth Capital
      and Bear Stearns, most of them financial services firms. (No
      donor name was listed for Cedar Tree LLC; the address is 46
      Sears Road, the home of Chuck Irving, one of the town center
      project developers.)

      In some cases SOS apparently skirted reporting requirements
      by listing husband and wife and including only the occupation
      "homemaker." Thus, for example, Scott Sperling and his wife
      donated $1,000 without disclosing that Sperling is co-president
      of Thomas H. Lee Partners, a well-known multi-billion-dollar
      private equity concern.

      After election day, some WVN readers wrote that the campaign
      represented "class warfare," employed scare tactics and
      lowered the level of local politics. (These weren't the only
      opinions, of course. At the other extreme, some readers said
      that those who are dissatisfied with the way Wayland is run
      should find another place to live.)

      An article in the Sunday MetroWest News by Wayland reporter
      Katie Liesener vividly dramatized the perceived conflict. In
      "Neighbor Wars" Liesener tells the story of a lawyer and his wife
      who were attracted by the school system and in 2002 moved into
      Spencer Circle, a new development of million-dollar houses.
      Soon after, the newcomers began filing complaints against a
      Main Street neighbor who has lived in Wayland for all of his 77
      years and operates a business on the premises. Ultimately the
      Main Street householder lost in court. The lawyer also pursued
      complaints against other neighbors over debris and a
      clothesline.

      (You can read the entire story at
      www.metrowestdailynews.com/localRegional/view.bg?articleid=
      130648. Email
      WVN if you have difficulty accessing it. We'll get a copy to you.)

      Liesener's article notes Wayland's rapidly changing
      demographics. Nearly one-third of Wayland residents arrived
      between 1995 and 2000, according to latest available figures. In
      the past five years houses in new subdivisions have been
      assessed at an average of $1.6 million, almost 2-1/2 times the
      average.

      Other analyses show that about a quarter of Wayland residents
      reported annual incomes in recent years of less than $50,000;
      the top quarter reported incomes above $200,000.

      Potentially more significant than the SOS advantage in campaign
      spending the prospect of remaining active rather than dissolving
      as the RSVP ballot question group did. SOS was formed as a
      ballot question committee, which must by law be dissolved after
      the ballot question is decided. The state's Office of Campaign
      and Political Finance regulates expenditures so that voters can
      learn the source of the money being spent to persuade them.

      On March 10 OCPF Director Michael J. Sullivan wrote to SOS
      Co-Chair Lisa Valone in response to her emailed questions.
      Sullivan's advisory opinion (AO-06-05, available online at
      www.mass.gov/ocpf) notes that Valone said she was "planning
      to form some groups," creating "an ongoing organization"
      addressing various issues. An issues group that doesn't solicit
      funds to promote or oppose a ballot question needn't form a
      ballot question committee, he said. But, he added, if it spends
      money from its general treasury on such a campaign the money
      must be reported.

      "What happens if a ballot question committee and an issues
      group, Waylanders for Smart Growth ('Waylanders') want to
      produce and distribute a joint marketing piece," Sullivan was
      asked. He replied that Waylanders could pay up to half the cost
      without a disclosure to the town clerk. Below is an example that
      could be instructive.

      Waylanders for Smart Growth may not sound familiar, and has
      virtually no public profile, but some may recall the name in a
      full-page ad in the Wayland Town Crier advocating the town
      center zoning that was approved at a May 3 special Town
      meeting. At the bottom was the note: "Sponsored by
      Waylanders for Smart Growth and OneWayland. Paid for by
      Colleen Sheehan, 16 Springhill Road, Wayland, MA."
      (OneWayland is an email newsletter run by Chris Reynolds, a
      town center advocate.) Newspapers generally don't print
      political ads without disclosing who paid for them. In this case
      all the public learned is who wrote the check.

      When SOS is no longer a ballot question committee, will it
      re-form and declare itself as an issues group? Since the
      election it has pressed for increased state aid to schools (along
      with many others in this and other towns). During the campaign
      it meshed its efforts for the override with forces pushing the town
      center project. Thus citizens attending meetings devoted to the
      override might also be given a handout promoting the town
      center. Campaign signs favoring the override and the town
      center were different in color but almost identical in design.

      The recent financial disclosures indicate that SOS is already
      working with one group, WaylandeNews. SOS expenditures
      include three monthly payments for "eNews update fee." The
      Wayland eNews website's founders include Betsy Connolly and
      Kim Reichelt. Connolly is a former selectman and longtime
      advocate for the town center project. Reichelt was the head of the
      advocacy group pushing in 2005 for a new Wayland High School.
      Though eNews claims to be even-handed, it evidently accepts
      money from one side of a political campaign.

      A Boston Globe story explains how SOS worked with another
      group, high school seniors who registered 96 students to vote.
      Senior Sam Wolfson said SOS approached him. "They told us
      we had a fairly unlimited budget to work with to get the kids to
      come vote," Wolfson said. Wolfson and Johnson's work wasn't
      merely a non-partisan get-out-the-vote effort. They held Vote Yes
      signs and joined an SOS-sponsored rally.

      Attention now focuses on avoiding yet another override next year.
      The state Legislature's impending decision on school aid is
      crucial. Recent indications are that municipalities will receive
      more than they did last year but still less than in 2002. In any
      case, it will be largely up to Wayland to solve its fiscal problems.

      Forty-five percent of a large turnout cast a vote of of no
      confidence in April when they opposed the tax override. Some of
      those voters said they don't oppose taxes but want the town to
      show that it can det priorities and exercise fiscal restraint. Do
      elected and appointed officials take that plurality seriously?


      -- Michael Short
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      Michael Short, Editor
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