Somerville Reports Go Online: Prove To Be A Treasure Trove Of… Vapidity
By Carmen Russell
Starting this year, the Somerville Elections Department has begun posting the campaign finance reports for all elected officials in the city – the results of activists’ efforts for more transparency. The documents, now freely available on the department’s Web site (somervillema.gov/departments/elections), contain every dollar accounted for in every race, giving citizens insight into where the money comes from, whose race was paid for by whom and how we might expect city aldermen to vote on issues of concern to their contributors.
The documents are elucidating. The information, compelling. The amount of money contributed to most of our elected officials reveals that they are guilty.
Guilty of boring hardworking journalists and activists.
At least in our review of the Board of Aldermen. For example, Ward 4 Alderman Walter Pero took in more than $45 last year. To be exact: $45.01. Knowing where that money came from is even more telling: bank interest on the account. In other words, no one bought anything from Alderman Pero.
Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz seems to have more to hide. Her grand total of $50 in receipts are not linked to any contributors. Of course, contributions below $50 don’t have to be identified, and Gewirtz’s report suggests that this is a collection of smaller contributions. Still, you have to wonder what kind of influence one gets for $10 in cash. For his part, Alderman-at-Large Bill White posts a measly $.37 in receipts – not even enough to buy a stamp.
Things start to look up when reviewing Aldermen-at-Large Bruce Desmond and Dennis Sullivan’s reports. Desmond lists a single $500 contribution, possibly enough to sway his vote somewhere. However, closer inspection reveals it was a contribution to himself. Alderman Sullivan’s single contribution of $250 came about the same way.
Many of our elected officials don’t even make an effort to be more interesting. Ward 7 Alderman Bob Trane and Ward 3’s Thomas Taylor do not report any contributions at all. How did our elected contingent get to be so corruptly vapid, taking away the ability of journalists and activists to make an honest living? Good campaign finance laws are mostly to blame. Massachusetts law limits electoral contributions to $500. Additionally, everyone who contributes more than $50 must give their full name, address, occupation and employer.
Unlike their colleagues on the Board of Aldermen, Ward 1 Alderman Bill Roche and Ward 5 Alderman Sean O’Donovan received total 2010 contributions of $12,335.75 and $27,340.00 respectively. Roche’s biggest contributors include four officers of Triumvirate Environmental (61 Innerbelt Rd), who each gave the maximum $500 for a total of $2,000.
Alderman Roche attributed his fundraising to general advocacy, pointing out 95 percent of his donors either live in Ward 1 or run a business there. (The 95 percent claim is difficult to verify because one-third of his contributors with home addresses outside of Somerville did not provide their occupational information.) As for Triumvirate International, he notes that they are located in the Inner Belt, a commercial area he advocates for. “I was probably as surprised as you were [Triumvirate] contributed in such large amounts,” he said. “To my knowledge, they have no business with the city. I think they just appreciate my work on behalf of the Inner Belt.”
O’Donovan exceeded Roche’s maximum donor list with 29 of his own, including $3,000 from the related Dupuis and Faulkner families, owners of Walnut Hill Management (54 Highland Ave) and Faulkner Brothers oil and gas (2 Alpine St). O’Donovan also received $4,000 from various members of the Sillari family, who own several businesses and properties.
O’Donovan claimed family friendships for the donations. His father, an Irish immigrant, married his mother and moved to Somerville after World War II and befriended Peter Dupuis Sr. and Tony Sillari. “Peter Sr. is about my father’s age and they’ve known each other for 50 years,” he says. He told the story about how, when he was child, his house lost heat late Christmas Eve and Tony Sillari, a plumber at the time, came over to fix the boiler.
Going down the list of his top contributors – Ed Nuzzo, Kris Ogonowski, etc. – O’Donovan claimed friendship with each. “These are all people I know personally,” he says. “It’s not that these people are any better than ones that give me less, but since I know they can afford it, I ask them for more.”