Hours before his race was lost, Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson said that the vote outcome would be an expression of the voters’ will that he would accept, and he added that his opponent had gotten a big money boost from two philanthropists who support progressive causes: former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and financier George Soros.
“He had the Soros and Bloomberg people dumping a half-million dollars into his campaign,” Hodgson said of his opponent, Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux, in an interview at White’s in Westport, where his supporters had gathered to watch election returns.
The remark echoed a pro-Hodgson digital advertisement claiming a Heroux link to Soros, and to “anti-police politicians” whose policies have led to rising crime. While the ad did not mention Soros’s religion, it prompted accusations that the Hodgson campaign was playing on an anti-Semitic stereotype of Jews as master manipulators of world events, and it also indirectly pointed to the role that so-called super PACs played in the campaign.
A super PAC is a political action committee that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of political candidates and parties, but is not allowed by law to coordinate its activities with the party or candidate.
While the Soros connection to Heroux is not clear, the Bloomberg tie is. So is the fact that both candidates got support from so-called super PACs, but such spending on Heroux’s behalf was about four times the figure for Hodgson, who had much more money in his campaign finance account.
Records compiled by Massachusetts Office of Campaign Finance show that between August and early November, two super PACs spent just over $440,000 on behalf of the Heroux campaign.
The records show that in October and November, one PAC spent either about $124,000 or nearly $80,000 on Hodgson’s behalf. The exact figure is not clear, as the same expense — to the penny, $44,399.66 — is shown in two separate reports.
Jason Tait, a spokesman for the Office of Campaign Finance, said that as a general question, it’s possible the exact same amount of money could be spent, and appear in two separate reports, but this could not be verified without an audit.
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Either way, Heroux, who by the end of September had about a fifth as much money in his own campaign account as Hodgson did, was getting much more help from this sort of political spending. The campaign finance records show that the independent money allowed Heroux to make up a significant funding disadvantage and even to surpass Hodgson’s spending.
Heroux’s own campaign, which also competed in a primary election in September, spent about $92,000 on the general election in September and October, records show. The total of campaign and independent spending would be about $532,000.
The reports show that Hodgson’s campaign, which did not compete in a primary, spent about $350,000 between August and the end of October. With the independent spending, the total would be $474,000 or $430,000, depending on that sum reported twice.
Such political spending was ruled legal in 2010 in decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in its “Citizens United” ruling, and months later in a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that cited the “Citizens United” case. The opinions struck down prohibitions on political campaign spending by corporations and unions.
Records show that a gun control group founded by Bloomberg, Everytown for Gun Safety, spent just over $197,000 in October to support Heroux. The money paid for producing and distributing a digital ad calling Hodgson “extreme and dangerous,” and mentioning the sheriff’s ties to organizations that have been labeled “hate” groups and “anti-government” extremists by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
According to the records, more than $242,000 was spent on Heroux’s behalf by the Working Families Party for mailings, texting, canvassing, radio advertisements, data services and photography. The Working Families Party supports progressive candidates across the country.
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On Hodgson’s behalf, an organization called the Massachusetts Majority spent either nearly $80,000 or about $124,000 on texting, mailings and digital advertising.
CommonWealth magazine reported last November that the Massachusetts Majority was headed by Leominster developer Gregg Lisciotti and supports both Democrats and Republicans. The group’s website says it backs candidates who support a state government that is “thrifty and responsible.”
Nowhere does the Soros organization, Democracy PAC, or any other group tied to Soros appear in the records. A report by Forbes that appeared early this year shows that Democracy PAC contributed $50,000 to the national Working Families Party.
It is not clear how much of the Soros money, if any, went to Heroux. It’s also not clear if Hodgson was referring to the Democracy PAC in his references to a Soros connection to Heroux.
Hodgson gave a vague answer about the connection when asked about it at a campaign event a day before Election Day. His campaign manager, Holly Robichaud, declined to answer questions about the claimed Soros connection to Heroux.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Heroux acknowledged that independent organizations had spent about a half-million dollars on behalf of his campaign, but he said he knew of no connection to Soros.
The website for the Working Families Party showed that along with Heroux, the organization also supported Democrat Donna Buckley, who won her race for sheriff in Barnstable County.
Their website lists among the candidates they support members of “The Squad,” a quartet of progressive Democratic women members of Congress who have become favorite targets of the right: Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York.
Email reporter Arthur Hirsch at firstname.lastname@example.org.