ELM Action Fund in State House News: After Primary Wins, Enviro Fund Turns to November Legislative Races

By Michael P. Norton
State House News Service

Touting victories of five Democrats it endorsed in competitive primaries, an environmentally focused political action committee has gotten behind ten more Democrats who hope to break into the Legislature in January, including challengers facing Republican lawmakers from Falmouth, Norwell, Seekonk, Wareham and Worcester.

The Environmental League of Massachusetts Action Fund, which recently ranked lawmakers based on their voting records and identified a "Dirty Dozen" among them, plans to provide direct financial support through two political action committees to the challengers, including volunteers and resources for campaign mailings and phone banks.

The effort poses a challenge for Gov. Charlie Baker. The governor has been campaigning for Republican legislative candidates who appear to be running into strong headwinds posed by GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump's turbulent candidacy.

The group has endorsed a few Republicans but its new wave of endorsed candidates are all Democrats and includes Kara Nyman of Hanover and Moses Dixon of Worcester, who are running against Rep. David DeCoste (R-Norwell) and Kate Campanale (R-Worcester), respectively, two reps that the ELM Action Fund has singled out as targets for defeat.

Reps. Steven Howitt (R-Seekonk), David Vieira (R-Falmouth) and Susan Williams Gifford (R-Wareham) are also facing action-fund endorsed candidates in Paul Jacques of Rehoboth, Matthew Patrick of Falmouth and Sarah Hewins of Carver, respectively.

The action fund's board includes former Sen. Warren Tolman, a former Democratic candidate for attorney general and lieutenant governor; Doug Foy, who held a senior role in former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney's administration; and Peter Nessen, who was a Cabinet secretary under former Republican Gov. William Weld.

Joe O'Brien, the fund's political director, is a former mayor of Worcester who has been active over the years in assisting Democrats such as President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren, Congressman James McGovern and former Lt. Gov. Tim Murray. In a statement, O'Brien mentioned energy issues that continue to draw attention on Beacon Hill and called the group's endorsed challengers a "promising group of newcomers who will stand up for the environment when elected."

In the Sept. 8 primaries, the five action fund-endorsed candidates who prevailed were Reps. Tricia Farley Bouvier of Pittsfield, Sen. Patricia Jehlen of Somerville and Natalie Higgins of Leominster, Joan Meschino of Hull and Solomon Goldstein Rose of Amherst, who are all looking to hold seats for the Democrats. Fund officials claim they turned out thousands of pro-environment voters in September.

Prior its most recent endorsements, the ELM Action Fund had endorsed 45 legislators and challengers this election cycle. It has endorsed six Republicans running for re-election.

The group bases its endorsements on candidate voting records and questionnaire responses. To help candidates, the ELM Action Fund created two new entities: the ELM Action Fund Independent Expenditure PAC and the ELM Action Fund State PAC.

In a Sept. 27 campaign finance filing, the ELM Action Fund Super PAC listed $31,500 in receipts this year, including $25,500 from John and Nancy Hammond of Lincoln, $5,000 from Solect Energy Development and $1,000 from Philip Edmundson of Hingham. In late September, the super PAC reported spending $2,250 on polling races in which it is opposing three state reps, all Republicans, DeCoste of Norwell, Nick Boldyga of Southwick, and Shaunna O'Connell of Taunton.

The action fund's state political action committee listed a balance of just $831.12 on Oct. 3. "We are in the midst of our fundraising efforts," said George Bachrach, president of the ELM Action Fund Board and a former Democrat state senator. "While we're a small operation, the response is great. And we focus our resources on a few targeted races where we can make a difference."

The two political action committees have about $40,000 currently, with "hard pledges" for another $100,000, Bachrach said on Monday.

The group's recently endorsed candidates also include Julian Cyr of Truro, who is running for the Senate seat that Dan Wolf is giving up; Adam Hinds of Pittsfield, who is running for the Senate seat that Ben Downing is giving up; Aaron Kanzer of Barnstable, who is running for the seat that Rep. Brian Mannal is giving up; Dylan Fernandes of Falmouth, who is running for the seat that Rep. Tim Madden of Nantucket is giving up; and Jack Patrick Lewis of Framingham, who is running for the seat that Rep. Thomas Sannicandro is giving up.