Bill aims to expose ‘dark money’ at town meetings

State Sen. Julian Cyr, left, and state Rep. Dylan Fernandes. -MV Times

Two local state representatives filed a bill to counter the influence of what they are calling “dark money” in town meetings. 

State Sen. Julian Cyr (D-Truro) and State Rep. Dylan Fernandes (D-Falmouth) announced in a press release they filed legislation to “establish transparency and accountability” for any money spent to influence voters at town meetings. 

The bill, called “An Act relative to dark money in local government” (S.2804/H.4628) would close a “longstanding loophole” in Massachusetts’ campaign and political finance law that allows “unfettered political influence” on town meeting warrant articles. 

“Political spending on issues before town meetings should be required to follow the same rules of the road as candidates, ballot questions, and other political campaigns,” Cyr said in the release. “It’s bewildering and distressing that people with deep pockets and financial interests think they can buy their way into our local governance. We’re done with monied interests trying to sway town politics on the Cape and Islands; voters deserve to know who is behind campaigns seeking to influence local policies that will impact those of us who live here year-round.”

Massachusetts campaign finance law requires disclosure agreements for any group that receives financial contributions to oppose or promote a ballot question or influence an election. Candidates for state and local public offices must also follow strict requirements, including contribution limits and disclosure requirements. However, these disclosure and transparency requirements do not currently apply to groups seeking to influence issues addressed at town meetings, and do not appear before voters on the ballots, such as warrant articles. 

“Local policy decisions should be made by town residents, but a glaring loophole in the law allows for unfettered and unlimited spending by large outside groups and corporations to influence small town decisions,” Fernandes said in the release. “This legislation dams the flow of pervasive dark money in town meetings that too often drowns out the voices of local residents.” 

The release states that Cape and Islands towns have seen an “unprecedented level of financial and political expenditures” on matters before town meetings. Additionally, there has been a “worrisome increase” of spending and engagement by non-voters in recent years. 

According to the lawmakers, off-Island investors tried to influence short-term rental and housing measures during a recent Nantucket town meeting. In Provincetown this past spring, an anonymous group called Provincetown Citizens for Housing Solutions advocated against several short-term rental articles with mailers and text messages. Last week, mail was sent to Truro voters from a group named Take Back Truro, which campaigned against public works and housing initiatives. 

Both open and representative town meetings are currently excluded from the state’s campaign finance law, and there is no oversight over what a group of people advocates for or against before a town meeting, according to the lawmakers.


    • You would not be spending money on litigation if the chair listened to the advice of the paid for town attorney. Others might say, that he was unduly influenced by the opposition. Perhaps back room dealings were done by special interest groups. This is painfully evident by the fact that the chair used language taken from public comment and not public testimony in his solely written, negative opinion and denial of the special permit. Now let’s talk dirty.

    • Absolutely. Let’s make sure we know where the money comes from so we can be sure it is from people we like only. We should never allow money from people we disagree with. Next, you will want only vendors you like being chosen to do town work.

    • I am curious, does the Tower Foundation list each and every donation they receive and make it public information when they are donating to a cause they support? Please refresh my memory, did the Tower Foundation, when they stood up and said “I am the money” in the school library while supporting the Field Fund, state where their money came from? But I guess that is a moot point because the Field Fund gave no money what-so-ever to the school for their field project, something they promised to do. All they have done is cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting the school after they reneged on their promise. Patti Blinds makes a great point, how much influence does the Field Fund have on the Chair of the Planning Board? He’s been seen wearing their t-shirt, he re-posts a lot of information on his private FB site that the Field Fund has on their site. How much influence and support has he received from the Field Fund, that is a fair question? After all, he acted illegally when denying the field after multiple warnings from town counsel not to do so.

  1. Yes let’s see who is paying to force us to be taxed when we sell our home. Always the easy solution create another tax and the government has an endless appetite for your money. They also think they know how to spend your money better than you do.

    • Bob– There is nothing in this article about taxes.
      Nothing– it is about influence from people who don’t
      want to be named.
      There is nothing in this article about how taxpayer
      money is spent.
      it is an article about influencing the process.
      Can’t you comprehend that ?
      It’s pretty obvious, this is about limiting special
      interest with big, anonymous pockets from influencing
      legislatures to pass laws in one way or another.
      What are you talking about, man ?
      This is about making government more transparent
      and representing the will of “We the people”,
      I’m not surprised you have a problem with that.
      But I don’t understand why.
      I’m all for George Soros anonymously dropping
      a few million dollars into legal fees to stop the
      poison field proposed at our high school, but he won’t be
      able to do it if this legislation goes through.
      But aside from all that– I respectfully ask that
      you actually read the article and think about what it
      says before you throw some random comment about
      your alleged malfeasance of our local governments.
      Or perhaps, since you know how to spend your money
      better than town administrators’ in whatever town you happen
      to live in, the next time some drunk takes out a stop sign,
      you should replace it with your own money and time.
      Fair enough ? i will applaud you for doing a
      public service every time. And I certainly won’t complain
      if you replace a legal stop sign at your own expense,
      and it isn’t perfectly plumb. just make sure it is at the
      properly mandated height. There is a reason all stop
      signs are at a specific height.

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