Campaign Finance Takes Center Stage In GMP Senate Debate
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The morning after pre-primary reports were due to the state's Office of Campaign and Political Finance, the three vying for the Democratic nomination for the state senate sparred on WTBR's "Good Morning, Pittsfield."
Leading off the debate, host John Krol tackled those reports posed pointed questions about the candidate's donors.
Adam Hinds, on leave as executive director of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, nearly quadrupled the amount of fundraising of his closest competition by reeling in $75,000. The names on the donor list include city councilors, current and past presidents of the Chamber of Commerce, the head of Berkshire Arts & Technology Public Charter School, Mayor Linda Tyer, and others considered part of the "political establishment."
"We have had more individual donors for this campaign than any other campaign for this district," Hinds said, adding that his large list of donors shows he has the ability to build a coalition to tackle issues.
"I think we have 3 1/2 times the number of individual donors as well ... I'm a guy who gets a broad coalition of people together. I've been working with a lot of community leaders and I am proud that they've decided that I could be a strong advocate."
For his opponent Andrea Harrington, two of the names on Hinds' donor list that stuck out were John Moore from Mount Pleasant, S.C., listed as working in public and governmental affairs for Exxon Mobile, and Christopher Farrell, of Pittsfield, who works in communications for Berkshire Gas.
On Wednesday, it was announced that all three vying for the seat signed pledges from 350 Mass Action not to accept executives, lobbyists, and others employed by 10 major fossil fuel and utility companies.
"How can you stand against corporate interest after taking money from them, even after signing a pledge not to?" Harrington said.
Hinds responded by saying the Exxon executive was a friend of his whom he worked with in Baghdad for the United Nations and who contributed early in the campaign — long before the pledge was presented to Hinds. The Berkshire Gas employee is a "political junkie" who attended one of his fundraisers, Hinds said.
"We're already taking steps to return money," Hinds said of the aftermath of signing the pledge.
Hinds added that his list of donors also includes leading environmentalists, and leading social advocates as well.
Rinaldo Del Gallo went on the attack as well, asking why neither candidate agreed to voluntary spending limits. Del Gallo has raised just $500 so far, according to the OCPF, and called on voluntary spending limits that he believes would have leveled the playing field to allow non-politically connected competition for the seat. Del Gallo is calling for publicly funding campaigns to kick money out of politics.
"When you make that request, it just felt like you were trying to back the other candidates into a corner," Harrington said of her refusal to agree to limits, adding that Bernie Sanders, whom Del Gallo modeled his campaign after, raised a lot of money from private donors during his run for the presidential nomination.
"You can see who I raise money from. They are hard-working people who support me," Harrington said.
Harrington raised some $20,000 though the names of donors aren't as impressive when it comes to political clout — the only name that stands out is former state Sen. Andrea Nuciforo. Krol turned his previous question around and asked, if a senator's job is to work with elected officials and business and educational leaders, isn't Hinds' list of donors a sign he'd be more effective?
"I will be an independent voice. I am running to represent the voters of this district," Harrington said. "The voters of this district will know that when I am at Beacon Hill I am representing them ... I'm not there to go to cocktail parties. I'm not there to make friends."
Del Gallo said the fundraising numbers are part of what's wrong with politics. He's been active in the community for some 15 years passing local laws, writing columns for local media, fighting for fathers' rights, doing pro bono work to stop time shares and fighting for First Amendment rights. But a community activist doesn't make the political connections that translates to fundraising.
"I've been around for 15 years, I'm a very big community guy, and I am running against a guy who is politically connected. I don't think that is a political skill," Del Gallo said.
Without publicly funded campaigns, he said he has little chance to compete with the political establishment. He later added, "I'm up against a politically connected candidate who has been here for two years and another one who has been quiet for 10 years."
Hinds retorted saying he grew up in the district and has deep roots. The large list of individual donors shows that he has the ability to mobilize the community around the issue and that people are getting excited about his campaign.
He said just because one individual may disagree with one issue, doesn't mean they can't agree on others. In some cases, like the expansion of the charter school, Hinds said BArT Executive Director Julia Bowen disagrees with his stance on charter schools but she still supports the campaign.
Harrington retorted that she's been far from "invisible" as she has been raising her family, running her own law firm focused on criminal defense, family, and divorce. She says she's been putting the the hard work and facing the same difficult challenges the voters in this district are facing.
Harrington says her message has been consistent and she "purposefully" focused on being an independent voice. She questioned how voters could know Hinds "position aren't differing in different rooms."
When it comes to switching positions, Del Gallo accused Hinds for doing so when it comes to the $15 minimum wage. Del Gallo said at one forum Hinds supported an "across the board" $15 minimum wage. At the next, he supported some exceptions. Later, he called for an incremental approach.
Hinds refuted the claim and said he's always been for the $15 minimum wage and he believes that an incremental approach will get the state there.
"We have a poverty wage right now," Hinds said. "If we are getting there by going up incrementally, then we are getting there."
Del Gallo shot back, "I think you flip flopped."
Harrington said she'd stick to the $15 minimum wage. She and Del Gallo had both answered "yes" when asked at a debate last month if they supported the $15 wage; Hinds had said yes but with exceptions.
Krol asked which issues would the candidates "die on the hill" for if elected and for Harrington, it was the minimum wage increase. She said 70 percent of people on public food assistance are working and that's unacceptable.
Del Gallo said it would be the environment, and he'd support such projects as windmills in the Berkshires, an issue he said the other candidates oppose. Hinds said he'd go after education — creating universal preschool and changing the Chapter 70 funding formulas.
"The formula is hugely flawed and I've made this a pillar of my campaign," Hinds said.
Hinds said area school districts spend 140 percent more for retiree benefits, 60 percent more for special education that is allocated in the foundation formula. He said it is time for the Legislature to "step up" and change the formula to provide the local districts the funding needed for those costs.
"That was an extremely verbose way of saying we need more money for schools," Del Gallo said, saying the only way to get more money for school is to raise additional revenue by changing to a more progressive tax system, taxing capital gains at a higher level, and having millionaires pay more.
Hinds said he does support the fair share amendment, which would raise additional revenue with an extra tax on those making more than $1 million. He said a report shows the shortfall in money for school is estimated at $1.5 billion to $2 billion, exactly what is projected to be made by the fair share amendment.
Harrington said the Chapter 70 formula was flawed when it switched to be based per student and not by costs. That's what "killed us" in local revenue. She called for the closing of corporate tax loop holes and implementing the fair share amendment to generate more money for the schools.
When it comes to charter schools, Hinds and Harrington both oppose raising the cap to allow for more. Del Gallo said he will honor whatever the voters choose on the ballot question in November's election.
Krol added that a report from Auditor Suzanne Bump shows that charter schools have not been sharing best practices with other schools as originally intended and in fact, often the relationship is difficult between the traditional public school and the charter schools.
"There is a convening role to play. That would be one of my functions," Hinds said of that relationship, saying there is "more to do" when it comes to the relationship with the BArT and other school districts.
Harrington says she opposes charter schools as a whole. She said the traditional public schools should have those innovative practices charter schools were designed to provide but to do so they need the funding that is often sent to charters. She further added "we need to end the culture of testing in our schools."
"BArT has incredibly high test scores, it blows PHS out of the water," Del Gallo said, adding that residents should have the option of which school to send students to. "I think there is some really bad public schools and I think people should have a choice."
Raising the number of schools will be decided by the voters and Del Gallo has continually said he will honor whatever the vote is. However, Krol said Del Gallo has adopted Sanders' entire platform and the Vermont senator has a history of sticking to positions he felt were right even in the face of unpopularity. Krol asked Del Gallo which issues would he stick to if elected.
When it comes to "direct democracy," Del Gallo said he would always support the will of the people.
Hinds said he's been opposed to raising the charter cap as his personal position because he believes it impacts funding of other districts.
"I've been very vocal about the need to fix our funding issues and I view this as a funding issues," Hinds said.
When it comes to other ballot questions, only Del Gallo said he was in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes. All three supported the question to ban the sale of products farmed from animals raised in confined spaces — with Del Gallo having already filed an ordinance to do so in the city of Pittsfield.
When asked by Hinds about his stance on marriage equality, Del Gallo acknowledged his views adapted over time — just like President Barack Obama's position on the issue. He said at one point he was in favor of civil unions.
"I have eventually changed my view on that and I've since filed for transgender rights in the city of Pittsfield," Del Gallo said.
When it comes to the proposed Walmart Supercenter at the William Stanley Business Park, Del Gallo opposes it and say the foundations should have been built on instead of having an extensive remediation. He's been critical of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority's handling of the parcels left behind by General Electric and said it should have followed the Fort Devens model to grow a technology-based economy.
Krol said the city is looking at some $8 million in work to the foundation, asking what should the city do if Walmart doesn't take on that burden.
"We do need to give the city credit that they are stuck in this situation of balancing budgets and holding out on a very large industrial parcel," said Hinds, who added he doesn't like Walmart's impact on local economies but understands the difficult position the city is in when it comes to that parcel.
Harrington called for a regional economic vision, and not solely looking at the Walmart proposal through the lens of the city of Pittsfield but rather as a region as a whole.
Harrington is a Great Barrington-based attorney whose husband owns the Public Market in West Stockbridge. But, Hinds questioned her background, saying the job of a senator isn't administrative like a governor or mayor but rather someone who sets policy and leads coalitions. He asked what experience she had in doing that.
She responded by saying building coalitions and negotiations is exactly what her job entails. As an attorney, she is working with opposing council trying to come up with consensus for outcomes. If that fails, her job is to convince juries and judges to side with her and that involves telling her client's compelling stories and building a logical case to bring others to her viewpoint.
"I build my case. I speak with integrity," Harrington said.
Hinds said all three candidates have progressive viewpoints but voters need to decide who can be effective. He said he's shown the ability to bring people together through his work with the Pittsfield Community Connection and the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition to tackle the tough issues.
"I believe in politics that can be inspiring in keeping it positive and in taking on the big challenges we face," Hinds said. "We have three progressive Democrats but we need a progressive Democrat who can get results."
Del Gallo had made his point early on that he already had experience in local lawmaking, and his focus would be on what his constituents wanted done.
"They never once said publicly they'd support the will of the people on ballot questions," he said of his opponents.
Harrington said she understands the voters and the issues they care about because she cares and has struggled with them, too. She said the district needs "an independent vote who cares more about the voters and not just building a war chest."
"I'm not a politician. I'm not politically connected. I haven't been preparing to run for office and meeting with the right people. I've been doing the hard work," Harrington said.
The debate is available online here and will be rebroadcast on PCTV.
Tags: debate, Democratic Party, election 2016, primary, State Senate,
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