State regulators find evidence of campaign finance violations by Lt. Gov. Murray; attorney general asked to investigate further

Dorchester, MA - 1/14/2013 - Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, cq, left, and Lt. governor Timothy Murray, cq, right, attended and spoke at MassDOT's presentation of "The Way Forward: A 21st Century Transportation Plan," which was held in the Campus Center Ballroom at UMass Boston on Monday morning, January 14, 2013. Story by Michael Levenson and Eric Moskowitz/Globe Staff. Topic: 15transport. Story by Emily Sweeney/Globe Staff. Item name: xxsosouthfield. Photo by Dina Rudick/Globe Staff
Lieutenant Governor Murray spoke, with Governor Patrick looking on, at a recent event.Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

State campaign finance regulators have concluded that Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray violated state law by accepting political donations from the disgraced former Chelsea housing director, and they’ve asked the attorney general to conduct a criminal probe of Murray as well as key members of his campaign team.

Chelsea, MA -- 10/27/11 -- Michael E. McLaughlin, Executive Director of Chelsea Housing Authority, stands in front of the Chelsea Housing Authority's Scrivano apartment development on October 27, 2011. (Kayana Szymczak for The Boston Globe)
Michael E. McLaughlin, former head of the Chelsea Housing Authority (Kayana Szymczak for The Boston Globe)The Boston Globe

Aides to Murray, who said last week he would not run for governor in 2014, have repeatedly said he is not a target in the state’s criminal investigation into the fundraising activities on his behalf by former Chelsea Housing Director Michael E. McLaughlin. In fact, Murray himself initially requested the investigation of his fund-raising in hopes of clearing his name.

However, a Sept. 19, 2012, letter from the Office of Campaign and Political Finance to the attorney general’s office leaves no doubt that regulators found evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Murray in his relationship with McLaughlin, who organized numerous fund-raisers for Murray even though, as a public employee, he was barred from most political fund-raising.

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“The evidence … indicates that McLaughlin, Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray, and the Citizens Committee to elect Tim Murray did not comply with Section 7 of the campaign finance law, which prohibits the solicitation or receipt of contributions not raised in accordance with the campaign finance law,” wrote Michael J. Sullivan, director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, to Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office.

Accepting illegally raised campaign contributions carries a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.

McLaughlin, who resigned in November 2011 amid the uproar over his sky-high $360,000 salary, was charged Wednesday with four felony counts of concealing his salary from state and federal regulators. The charges were contained in a document that prosecutors normally use when the defendant is expected to plead guilty.

In announcing the criminal charges against McLaughlin, Coakley made it clear that she would continue her probe of McLaughlin’s political activities. McLaughlin was one of Murray’s first political supporters when he ran for statewide office in 2006, organizing at least three fund-raisers and turning out his employees and tenants in Chelsea at political events for Murray and Governor Deval Patrick.

Sullivan’s letter raises new questions about Murray’s ill-fated gubernatorial bid, which ended abruptly when Murray withdrew to spend more time with his family, surprising some of his supporters. Murray had been aggressively raising funds since the fall, including $136,639 in the last two weeks of December alone.

According to Sullivan’s letter, Murray and several of his campaign aides had been informed months ago that regulators suspected them of breaking campaign finance law. In fact, Sullivan wrote that Murray and his campaign aides each asked for a hearing prior to Sullivan turning the case over to Coakley for further investigation.

Murray, who has retained former US Attorney Donald Stern, already has been examined under oath by investigators in the McLaughlin case, and he has spent $78,659 on legal bills from his campaign funds.

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