Monday, May 27, 2024

What does Matt Damon have to do with campaign finance in Cambridge? Click on the photo to find out. (Photo: Bex Walton)

Oct. 11 was a money-maker for Mayor David Maher’s campaign for reelection. On that day, he got $500 contributions from each of six people in Cleveland, Ohio, named Ratner. Albert, Brian, Charles, James, Ronald and Deborah each gave the limit from an individual under the law.

All are board members of Forest City, the company that built University Park at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The same day, Maher’s campaign got $3,100 donations from other real estate interests en route to amassing $13,600, the most received from developers among 18 City Council candidates, nine of whom will be elected or reelected in voting Tuesday. The candidates agree the donations do not affect their political decisions, and some take steps to ensure it doesn’t.

Some aren’t accepting funds at all.

Not far behind Maher is Marjorie Decker, at $11,093, according to a review of records from the state Office of Campaign & Political Finance through Nov. 4. A week before Maher’s campaign windfall, her account had received $500 checks each from five Ratners.

The same day, Oct. 4, incumbent Leland Cheung, in fifth place with $8,500 from development interests, drew a $500 check from James Ratner.

Charles Ratner favored the campaign of Denise Simmons with $500 on Sept. 26. Four days before that, the Ratners sent Ken Reeves’ campaign four checks of $500 each.

Other names crop up as $500 contributors to Cambridge council candidates, sometimes on multiple occasions — Richard McKinnon of the company that plans to develop the Faces site along Route 2; Alex Steinbergh, principal of RCG; Matthew Di Giovanni of Trinity Properties, which owns a number of Harvard Square properties; and Thomas Andrews of Alexandria Real Estate, which has proposed 400 units of housing in Kendall Square.

Campaigns collecting the most contributions tend to be those getting the most from development interests, but not always. The top seven candidates listing the most receipts through Nov. 4 are:

Veteran Councillor Henrietta Davis has received no donations from development-related sources. Challenger Minka vanBeuzekom has more than $22,700 in campaign receipts, but has drawn $825 from builders and attorneys.

In stark contrast to those who accept such money, challengers James Williamson and Gary Mello, both of whom raised concerns in their campaigns about the impact of developer money, have received none.

Tim Rowe, CEO of The Cambridge Innovation Center, speaks at a 2009 gathering. Click here to see his two-week flurry of campaign donations. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Asked to detail his $1,000 in receipts, Mello wrote in an e-mail: “I self-funded $1,000 with a personal limit of $3,000 if warranted. Four hundred bucks or so spent; no contributions solicited or accepted. You can expect me to dissolve shortly after the election to avoid keeper fees. It’s all my own dough.”

Councillor Craig Kelley as well as challengers Matt Nelson and Tom Stohlman also got no developer contributions. Receipts that Gregg Moree and Jamake Pascual filed with the state were not broken down.

“I do not solicit donations from anybody, and I ask my supporters to donate instead to the Cambridge charity of their choice,” Stohlman wrote in response to queries Saturday about his contributors and the impact of developer money. “Sometimes, they send me a check anyway; such was the case with three of my supporters, all of whom are retired or semiretired and are people I know personally.”

“A political contribution can be made for a variety of reasons, both good and bad. I do not solicit or accept donations from known developers. This is a way to show both the developers and the public that my view is not being influenced by how much money they have given my campaign, whatever their motivation,” Stohlman said.

Here are responses from other councillors to questions about the impact of contributions:

Decker, a veteran incumbent, wrote Monday: “It does [not] influence my thinking nor actions on development. I cannot confirm that your number is accurate — without looking at all of my contributions or that every developer you have identified has business in Cambridge.

“Regardless, I will continue to govern with the best interests of our community. I will continue to seek balance for healthy development/redevelopment with what is in the best interests of our neighborhoods, economy and overall health of our community.

“I will continue to be a strong advocate and policymaker for ensuring that we maintain and nurture a vibrant community that is diverse, welcoming, affordable and a great community to work and live in from birth through one’s golden years.

“I have lost contributions from individuals who have disagreed with my votes from the siting of the main library to my positions on protecting workers and standing up for organized labor. I have accepted contributions from people who do not support all of my policy positions. I will continue be influenced by the people of Cambridge and the history of my roots in this city and the future of a city I hope my children will be able to call home when they are grown.”

Incumbent Sam Seidel, whose campaign had receipts of more than $13,500 and $750 in contributions from development interests, wrote:

“I do limit contributions from development interests. My vote must always reflect what I feel is in the best interest of this community as a whole, and should not even give the impression that there is a price tag on my opinion.

“When I consider a development project, I work hard to treat the parties fairly and evenly, and I never forget that the long-term community interest is the most important result.

“When developers give large sums of money, it is easy for the community to feel that the deck has been stacked against them from the outset by well-heeled special interests and that the result will be skewed because of it.”

Challenger Charles Marquardt, with receipts of more than $10,000 and $250 from McKinnon contributed Oct. 26, wrote Monday:

“I have not targeted ‘development interests’ for political contributions, but I did receive a contribution from a Cambridge resident and neighbor who also happens to be a developer.

“I believe that development is important for the continued growth of Cambridge’s tax base. It provides jobs during the construction phase as well as jobs once the companies occupy and staff the buildings.

“What is important is that more of the construction and postconstruction jobs be available for residents of Cambridge. This means we need to continually assess the performance of our school system to provide our children with the educational base necessary to be prepared for the challenges of working in the many companies that call Cambridge home.

“I do firmly believe that development has to be both strategic and sustainable. Cambridge relies on new development to fund budget increases (for example, approximately 48 percent of this year’s tax-revenue increase came from new development). We need to be aware of the impact of new development on our tax base and, more important, the potential impact that a development slowdown could have on our tax rates.

“As for the impact of contributions on the decisions of the councillors when considering proposals for development, primarily in the form of zoning changes, I think it is best to ask each councillor individually as I am not in a position to ascribe motives to any of their votes. I do believe that the frequent reporting of contributions to the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance provides transparency into where candidates receive contributions that enables the public to ask questions as to any potential conflicts when a proposal comes up for a vote.”

VanBeuzekom wrote Nov. 7:

“I think my ‘developer’ contributions included $475 from David Aphosian and $350 from Stu Rothman. I know both of these men personally and have worked with them on urban issues. Both of these men have donated to my campaign in spite of the fact that they know I will continue to hold them accountable to the neighborhood.

“Stu owns multiple rental buildings in Area IV and has interacted with me in my capacity in the Neighborhood Association (curb cuts, trash and rat complaints, sidewalk, parking issues, trees, etc). Over the years, we’ve come to respect each other and we’ve learned to work out our differences in a way that benefits the neighborhood.

“David Aphosian has built multiple dense residential properties in Cambridge and Somerville, known for their fine urban design features. My ex-husband is an architect and he has worked on a number of projects with David, and that’s how I’ve come to know him.”

Nelson, who has your receipts of more than $13,000 and no contributions from development interests, wrote Nov. 7:

“I would say first of all that I am grateful for all of the generosity that was shown by our donors. I really believe that our campaign’s contribution records reflect who my networks are within Cambridge.

“I am sure developers haven’t given to me because I am not considered an ‘insider.’ I will commit to continuing to be a voice for middle class and working-class Cambridge.”

Reeves was asked about receipts of more than $26,000, including contributions from development interests of more than $10,000. Rachel Offerdahl, his campaign manager, responded Nov. 7 for Reeves:

“First of all, I want to thank the Cambridge Day for endorsing my reelection campaign. In fact, the endorsement answers your question.

“I am not influenced by developers, nor have I ever been in my 22 years on the Cambridge City Council. My adding of developer money does not reach your amount; however, I do not wish to quibble about figures.

“I have over 160 contributors to my campaign and almost 85 percent are not connected with the development world. However, some development, particularly that which I have initiated, is very good for the city of Cambridge and its citizens.

“The brand-new library increased readership by 115 percent and the Boston Architectural Society named it the best new building in the Boston metro area in the last 10 years.  Renovations to Cambridge Rindge & Latin High School and the War Memorial Auditorium are helping our students learn in a modern technological environment.

“As stated in the endorsement, I am currently chairperson of the Red Ribbon Commission on the Delights and Concerns of Central Square.  This commission is made up of many different people, including the area neighborhood coalition’s leadership, elected officials, city of Cambridge community development people, landowners and developers.

“Hopefully this group, which is coming out with a comprehensive plan for the future of Central and Kendall Squares on Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. at the City Council meeting, will help shape the future of the squares and Cambridge as a whole. I am very proud of this work that I have done over the last 22 years, but particularly the past 16 months on the Red Ribbon Commission and look forward to a newer and brighter Central Square.”

Cheung, with receipts of more than $53,000, was asked what impact contributions from development interests of more than $8,000 would have on him. “It won’t,” he responded Monday. “I’m grateful to have support across the city — from the $10 donations to the people who are able to more generously in support of my candidacy for a more responsive and transparent government. Every vote or decision I make is always based on the merits and for the residents I serve.”

An analysis published last month by Saul Tannenbaum titled “Who is Paying for the Cambridge City Council Election?” showed that nearly half the council contributions received between July 1, 2010, and Sept. 27, 2011, came from outside of the city. In that period, Cheung had the most receipts, followed by Maher.

Robert Winters collects campaign-finance information at the Cambridge Civic Journal.

All figures for this story were taken from reports at the state OCPF site.