BOSTON (CN) – A conservative nonprofit that plans to attack Massachusetts taxes in a pre-election ad campaign brought a federal complaint Wednesday to keep its donors secret.
Represented by Foley Hoag and the Institute for Free Speech, the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance would fall under the state’s reporting scheme merely because it plans to mention state Senator Marc Pacheco in an ad.
But the alliance insists that mentioning Pacheco is not sufficient to compel its speech. Since the “does not promote, support, attack, or oppose a specific candidate,” it says it should be allowed to keep its donors private as a 501c4 organization.
“The alliance’s ads are about legislative issues regarding the revenue generation and spending priorities of the Massachusetts General Court, not the evaluation of candidacies for office — indeed, while Senator Pacheco is up for re-election, he is running uncontested,” the 32-page complaint states.
A television and a radio script for the group’s ads, which are set to run on Fox News and the station WRKO, respectively, are included in the complaint.
They begin with two people talking about the Millionaire’s Tax, a failed initiative that would have appeared on the ballot next month, had the Massachusetts Supreme not struck it down in June.
Proposition 80 contemplated adding a 4 percent tax on income above the first $1 million, which would be in addition to the state’s 5.15 percent tax rate on all income.
The alliance’s ads meanwhile portray it as an 80 percent tax increase. They end with a command for voters to call Pacheco’s office and ask if he voted for it.
As noted in the complaint, the TV ad campaign would cost $10,000, running in the Plymouth and Bristol area for 30 days before the election, and the radio ads would run twice a day for 10 days before the election, at a total cost of approximately $4,200.
Because ads mention a candidate’s name and air within 90 days of an election, meanwhile, the state would have the alliance include a statement of support from one of its officers and identify its top five donors. Such requirements were created by laws passed in 2010 and 2014.
“The two major revisions to our state’s campaign finance laws that have occurred over the last several years are classic examples of intimidation legislation, plain and simple,” Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance spokesman Paul Craney said in a statement. “Our state government should be working to expand our First Amendment rights, not contract them. This lawsuit is not about getting rid of disclosure. Rather, this is about removing intimidation from the process.”
The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance previously challenged the state’s ban on corporate political contributions but the SJC upheld the ban just last month.
Representatives from the attorney general’s office and the Office of Campaign and Political Finance did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.