Mayor Marc McGovern campaigns in June for reelection. (Photo: Marc McGovern via Facebook. Brightness, contrast and color balance on this image have been adjusted more than normal in an attempt to improve the clarity and quality of the original.)

After being alerted that his campaign had accepted $4,000 from supporters of an anti-trans campaign, Mayor Marc McGovern said Tuesday that he would not be giving it back – because he would instead be donating it to MassEquality, an organization that supports LGBTQ rights.

“Within the minute that I read the email, I said, ‘Oh, my God, I had no idea. I’m going to return the money, I want nothing to do with that,’” McGovern said. “I’ve actually decided that instead of returning the money, which [the contributors] will then use for something else I don’t believe in, I’m donating it to MassEquality.”

The news of the donation came from a Medium post published Sunday by Sophia Belle, an activist and musician who reported from the “Straight Pride” event held last weekend in Boston, at which police officers attacked and arrested peaceful counterprotestors. Considering nationally known right-wing political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos was flown in to speak and an “arena-appropriate stage rolled out” for a very small turnout of white nationalists and Trump supporters, Belle said it was obvious that the event had significant financial support, similar to the Keep Massachusetts Safe group that tried to overturn the state’s trans protection law last year. The group got the bulk of its funding in large donations from a handful of wealthy backers.

Among those backers were David G. Stubblebine, head of a family real estate firm based in Lexington called The Stubblebine Co. David G. Stubblebine’s contribution to McGovern came one and a half months after he gave a first $10,000 to the anti-trans group and 10 days before he donated a second $10,000 to the group. Two other Stubblebines gave to McGovern late in 2018 and this year.

“I did a fundraising effort and the Stubblebines contributed to my campaign. I don’t know them. I know that they’re involved in real estate, and they came through someone who I do know, who helped get people to contribute to my campaign. And then found out yesterday that they also contributed to [the anti-trans group],” McGovern said. “I don’t want anybody’s money that’s associated with something like that. And I’m grateful that I now know, because I don’t want their money.”

Many politicians face the problem of unwanted donations, which generally are not handled face to face, he said. “This kind of thing happens. People get donations and deposit them, and you find out afterward that there’s information you didn’t have before – Obama’s had to return contributions, Bernie Sanders has returned contributions,” McGovern said. “When you find out that information, do you make an excuse and keep the money? Or do you stand up and do the right thing? And so I’m doing the right thing.”

To Belle, the Stubblebine donations are emblematic of the larger issue of “well-endowed but bad-intentioned interests” coming to politicians to the detriment of the average voter, including the thousands the McGovern campaign has received from developers and others in the real estate industry. (Some other city councillors have received significant contributions from real estate professionals over the years, but the donations have long been a source of controversy; as in last election seasons, there are candidates on the Nov. 5 ballot announcing that will not accept donations from developers and people in related industries.)

“So teachers shouldn’t contribute because we vote on the school budget, and that impacts teacher salaries and resources? So no businesses, right? Nobody who owns a business should contribute, because somewhere down the line they might want an awning or an A-frame sign in front of their store?” McGovern said, arguing that donations have not swayed his votes – including on issues relating to real estate. “If I was out there saying, ‘Development’s horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible’ and then all of a sudden this developer gave me money and I said, ‘Oh, development’s not that bad,’ well, then maybe you can point to something. But my position has never changed.”

“That’s why publicly funded elections are important, but we don’t have that yet,” McGovern said.