By Matt Murphy
State House News Service
BOSTON -- In a sign of which House primary races may be worth watching over the next two weeks, the political action committee controlled by House Speaker Robert DeLeo made its first round of donations earlier this month to eight of the 16 incumbents facing party challenges in two weeks.
The Committee for a Democratic House, whose stated purpose is to support Democratic members, doled out $4,000 in campaign contributions in early August.
They were the first campaign contributions made by the PAC in 2018, and went to an array of incumbent Democrats, including a 35-year veteran and member of leadership and a freshman trying to defend his seat for the first time after a narrow special election victory.
All eight lawmakers received contributions of $500, the limit for a political action committee. They are Reps. Byron Rushing of Boston, Colleen Garry of Dracut, Jim Hawkins of Attleboro, Jerald Parisella of Beverly, Jose Tosado of Springfield, Joseph McGonagle of Everett, Elizabeth Malia of Boston and Rady Mom of Lowell.
An official with Committee for a Democratic House said the choice of the eight Democrats who received support from the leadership PAC “had nothing to do with risk” and was not a sign that the speaker or anyone else was worried about their ability to retain their seats. “The goal is to help every incumbent member with a primary,” said Matt O’Neil, who coordinates the PACs activities on behalf of the speaker.
O’Neil said some of the incumbents that did not receive a check may have been “PAC’d out,” meaning their campaigns had already received the maximum amount of PAC donations for the year. Candidates for state representative are limited to accepting no more than $7,500 a year from political action committees.
The House leadership PAC this year has raised $161,661, and spent $147,821 on polling, consultant fees, fundraising and other expenses. Chaired by DeLeo, the PAC reported a balance of $175,568 in its account on Aug. 15.
Democrats currently hold 117 seats in the House, with 34 held by Republicans and two by unenrolled officeholders.
The highest ranking Democrat to receive money from the PAC was Rushing, the House assistant majority leader and a long-time incumbent South End Democrat who has two primary challengers this cycle.
Rushing had just under $14,000 in his campaign account at the end of 2017, and has never been a prolific fundraiser. His two opponents - Suezanne Bruce and Jon Santiago - don’t have to file their first fundraising reports until Aug. 27 when all candidates will report their pre-primary activity.
Hawkins, of Attleboro, also received help from the House PAC as he campaigns to defend the seat he won in a special election on April 3. Hawkins defeated two Democrats and Republican Julie Hall on his path to the State House this year after Paul Heroux stepped down to become Attleboro mayor.
This time he is being challenged by a new Democrat, Sara Lynn Reynolds, before a possible rematch against Hall in November.
McGonagle is in a three-way primary where one of his opponents Stephen “Stat” Smith is attempting a political comeback in the House after being forced to step down after he was convicted in an absentee voter fraud scheme. Meanwhile, Garry is one of the most conservative Democrats in the House and frequently votes against leadership, and even with Republicans. She is facing a challenge on her left from Dracut School Committee member Sabrina Heisey.
One person not on the list was Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez who is facing a spirited challenge from fellow Democrat Nika Elugardo just a year after assuming the powerful position in House leadership.
Elugardo’s campaign against Sanchez has been fueled, in part, by the House’s reluctance to take on immigration issues this session after President Donald Trump stepped up enforcement affecting families in neighborhoods like Mission Hill and Jamaica Plain.
The other Democrats with primary challengers who did not receive money from the speaker’s PAC were Reps. Robert Koczera of New Bedford, Kate Hogan of Stow, Sean Garballey of Arlington, Marjorie Decker of Cambridge, Denise Garlick of Needham, Angelo Scaccia of Boston and Dan Cullinane of Boston.