State ballot questions break fundraising and spending records

This year’s Massachusetts ballot questions have broken records for both spending and fundraising, led by far by the initiative to expand charter schools. A new campaign committee organized this past week may push even more money into the charter school fray.

WGBH’s Barbara Howard interviews reporter Shawn Musgrave about record-breaking contributions to this year’s ballot questions.

Contributions to ballot question committees are up more than 40 percent over 2014, according to data released this morning by the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

This month’s figures show that combined contributions to all ballot question committees have topped $43 million, a 40 percent increase over contributions in 2014, which set the previous record.

“They’ve broken the record because there’s an intense interest in the questions on the ballot,” said Michael Sullivan, director of the campaign finance office. “You have gambling and charter schools and marijuana. That’s a lot more interesting to people with big money than a question we had in the early 90s about public financing of elections.”

Question 2 — a proposal to increase the cap on the number of charter schools in the state — has raised the most money out of all individual ballot initiatives in the past decade, as WGBH reported last month.

Who’s contributing to Mass. ballot questions? Help us investigate.

By mid-September, supporters and opponents of the charter school had raised a combined $18.8 million. This morning’s figures put fundraising for Question 2 alone at more than $33 million. Fundraising for the charter school ballot question now tops all funds contributed to all of the 2014 questions, which included the bottle bill and an expanded prohibition on casinos.

Supporters of the charter school question have raised $20.5 million to opponent committees’ $12.5 million, as of this morning’s filing.

A single committee, Great Schools Massachusetts, has raised $16.8 million in cash contributions since it organized in August 2015, almost half of which was contributed in the past two months.

With less than three weeks to election day, a new committee has registered with the campaign finance office in support of the charter school question, according to filings.

The new committee, Advancing Obama’s Legacy on Charter Schools Ballot Committee, registered on October 17, and so did not report any contributions or expenditures for the reporting period ending on October 15.

The committee is chaired by Frank Perullo, chief executive officer of Novus Group, a strategic consulting firm based in Boston’s Lewis Wharf, according to registration documents. Its treasurer is Patrick van Keerbergen, national political director of the Brooklyn-based Democrats for Education Reform.

“The creation of the new ballot committee is a routine formality that will allow us to execute a get out the vote strategy in these final weeks before election day,” said Matthew Wilder, a committee spokesperson. The committee has not answered whether it has raised or spent money since its registration.

Question 4, which asks voters to determine whether marijuana should be legalized, is in a distant second for fundraising after the charter schools initiative. Supporters and opponents of the marijuana measure have raised a combined $6.8 million. The initiative to ban allegedly cruel practices in raising farm animals, in turn, has raised $2.6 million in total committee contributions, and the the question that would allow an additional slot machine parlor, $1.5 million.