Thursday, June 13, 2024
Mayor David Maher, seen at the Harvard Senior Picnic in August, has recently added to his reelection campaign account, in large part with donations by developers. (Photo: David Maher)

Mayor David Maher, seen at the Harvard Senior Picnic in August, has recently added to his reelection campaign account, in large part with donations by developers. (Photo: David Maher)

It’s a little less than a year until elections for city councillors and School Committee members, but Mayor David Maher is in full campaign donations mode – surging far ahead of any other sitting councillor by amassing a bit less than $34,190 in just a month’s time.

With a total $32,010 in his campaign account when the last reporting period ended Nov. 30, according to the state Office of Campaign & Political Finance, the mayor has about 2.5 times as much cash on hand as the runner-up among the nine-member council: Tim Toomey, with $12,838 (and $23,645 in liabilities). Maher has about 85 times the funds of the councillor with the lowest amount in his campaign account – Nadeem Mazen, a first-termer with $325 set aside for reelection spending.

121514i Maher fundraisingMaher had only $662 in his campaign account as of Oct. 16, before the fundraising surge.

At this point two years ago, Maher had only $45.76 in his campaign account. That previous reelection bank account peaked at $39,229 on Sept. 4, 2013, when Election Day was two months away, rather than 11 months away.

Maher has a simple explanation for this.

“While some of my colleagues have done fundraising throughout the year, my campaign committee typically hosts just one off-year fundraising event – which happened to be in October this year,” he said Monday.

Developer dollars

If that’s borne out, the upcoming campaign season could look like seasons past. But if the fundraising continues, Maher’s accomplishments are seen by some as a cause for concern. Because contribution limits operate within the calendar year, anyone who has contributed to campaigns before Dec. 31 can contribute again between Jan. 1 and Election Day.

Doug Brown, a resident who is skeptical of how the city is managing development, has been looking at campaign finance and is concerned that many contributors to Maher, as with other council incumbents, are involved in real estate and property development.

Contributors to Maher between Oct. 16 and Nov. 15 are a who’s who of development in Cambridge, including Alexandria Real Estate Equities (now building the Alexandria Center on Binney Street in Kendall Square), Forest City Enterprises (putting up a Takeda/Millennium Pharmaceuticals building near Central Square), HYM Investment Group (turning 45 acres into NorthPoint), Trinity Financial (a bidder on the East Cambridge courthouse redevelopment), and Twining Properties and Normandy Real Estate, who want zoning changes to build as high as 195 feet in Central Square.

“The next step is to say, ‘Okay, we see all these donations. Is there some connection between this and how the person governs?’” Brown said. “You can certainly see some interesting examples of timing where donations have come in either immediately before or immediately after important decisions.”

Maher did not address developer donations directly in his reply.

“Having served as an elected official for over 20 years, I am extremely grateful to my neighbors, friends and members of the local business community who continue to support my advocacy and work as mayor and city councillor,” Maher said.

Among Brown’s concerns – which include donations from developers based outside the community such as Forest City’s Ratner family, of Cleveland, or Joel Marcus, the Alexandria chief executive with a home in Beverly Hills, Calif. – he is bothered by the timing of donations by Douglas Manz and Tom O’Brien, two principals of the developer HYM. On Oct. 25, they each gave $500 to the mayor, with a council vote coming two days later on parking in the new 45-acre NorthPoint. It had been before the council’s Ordinance Committee 10 days earlier and with the Planning Board four days earlier.

“Our mayor just received a $1,000 donation from a developer at the same time that developer had business before the council,” Brown said.

The zoning was not controversial, considering that it was to allow some off-street retail parking for uses such as a grocery store for the neighborhood. Nor was the donation illegal, although Brown says he has found repeated examples of donors using a work-around even as they “do a good job of sticking to the $500 limit – they just get their wife to donate, and then they get their kid to donate. And then they get their cousin to donate,” and in that way give candidates what might be the $500-per-person limit multiplied several times.

The HYM donation also isn’t the only example of timing that bothers Brown:

Forest City and Alexandria donated money in advance of important City decisions on their projects. Again, it’s one of those things where it smells funny and they should have known better. I’m not saying it’s illegal, but the public might want to know about that.

Off-year surge

As Brown researches campaign funding in Cambridge, he said the mayor’s surge stands out.

“This is not something we’ve seen in the past. Candidates just don’t bother in off years,” Brown said. “If I try to make up a story to explain it, all I can come up with is he’s started to get pretty nervous about his prospects for next year, and so he feels the need to come up with a second round of donations while he can. The clock resets in January, the limits go up in January to $1,000, so in effect he’s triple-dipping.”

While Maher led in off-year fundraising, the past few weeks have seen vice mayor Dennis Benzan and councillors Dennis Carlone, Nadeem Mazen and Marc McGovern follow.

In all of last year before the Nov. 5 voting, Maher raised $41,252 according to state records and spent $38,076 on his campaign, a figure he has nearly reached a year early.

Another Office of Campaign & Political Finance filing period ends today.