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CAMPAIGN 2010 | TREASURER’S RACE

Candidates agree on lottery ads

But Grossman and Polito differ on most other issues

By Stephanie Ebbert
Globe Staff / October 28, 2010

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The two candidates vying for to succeed Timothy P. Cahill as state treasurer disagree on most things, sometimes vehemently. But one pledge they both embrace? No lottery ads during campaign season.

“If a state treasurer is running for office, either for reelection or for another office, then I think you need to absolutely have a blackout of the use of the treasurer’s name in advertising that you do,’’ said Steve Grossman, the Democratic nominee for the office of treasurer, which oversees the state lottery.

“People already have a dramatically reduced level of confidence in government, and the government is not operating in a way that is fully serving their needs,’’ he said.

The Republican nominee, Karyn E. Polito, is also opposed to “election-season advertising with taxpayer dollars.’’ But she would go further and freeze marketing spending for the lottery at its current $2 million, unlike Grossman, who wants to invest more, saying the lottery returns $2 for every $1 spent on marketing.

During the campaign, Polito’s main focus has been on financial restraint.

“I voted against the last three budgets because they included tax increases, which I feel are inappropriate to help us create a climate where businesses both small and larger are comfortable growing jobs and improving our economy in Massachusetts,’’ said Polito. “I believe the treasurer is someone who should protect the interest of the taxpayers and watch out for the people’s money, which is the kind of treasurer I will be.’’

The responsibilities of the treasurer have come under scrutiny over the past year as Cahill waged his independent run for governor. This month, the state attorney general halted lottery ads based on allegations that Cahill’s campaign for governor was trying to gain political benefit from television spots produced at taxpayer expense.

The treasurer invests the state’s money and pension funds, in addition to overseeing the state lottery, which is the state’s largest source of local aid. The treasurer also manages the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which oversees and helps to finance local school construction projects.

Grossman, 64, of Newton, made his name as a prodigious political fund-raiser while chairman of both the state Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee under President Clinton. He has also emphasized his business experience as the head of his family’s marketing business in Somerville.

Polito, 43, is a lawyer from Shrewsbury who also says she honed her business skills at a family business; her family is involved in real estate property management. A Republican state representative since 2001, she recently claimed the spotlight by temporarily blocking the state’s use of $420 million in federal stimulus funds, saying the Legislature should debate the spending rather than approve it in an informal session. After a weekslong standoff, the bill was approved by the House before Polito reached the chamber to object.

“The reason I’m running for treasurer is because we need a new approach,’’ Polito said. “The status quo is not working. We need to create a new culture on Beacon Hill.

“That’s why I’m not taking a public pension,’’ she said, deriding “careerism, self-interest, and greed that are too prevalent on Beacon Hill.’’

But Polito has faced questions about her involvement in a project that could benefit her family in the long run.

The Globe reported earlier this month that under Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, Polito helped to get her district $3.2 million for CenTech Boulevard, a road connecting a commuter rail line in Grafton to land near the 60 acres she and her family own in Shrewsbury. The Ethics Commission has for years warned public officials not to act on matters affecting property near their own because they are assumed to have a financial interest in the outcome.

Though there is no evidence that Polito or her family benefited financially from the new road to date — property values are down in this economy — the construction has stimulated interest in that area of town, an assessor told the Globe.

Polito denies any conflict, based on her reading of the law.

The Globe also reported Tuesday that Polito’s family members and associates claimed two-thirds of the first 100 low-number Red Sox plates created by a bill Polito filed to raise cancer research money for The Jimmy Fund.

Polito said the plates were available to anyone who applied and was assigned on a first come, first served basis, but the Globe reported that Registry of Motor Vehicles records showed that 68 of the applications approved contained some variation of the words “per KPolito.’’

The state’s conflict-of-interest law bars officials from receiving anything of substantial value because of an official act. The law also bars officials from getting anything of value for themselves or others that is not available to the general public.

The rivals have sparred vigorously on the campaign trail, with Polito suggesting that her Democratic opponent would spend too much money and become a social activist on the job, while she would block the “excessive borrowing, spending, and taxation on Beacon Hill.’’ She has called for a temporary moratorium on new capital projects, saying spending is politically driven.

Grossman countered that cutting capital spending during a recession would be a job-killer and has focused his initiatives on boosting jobs. If elected, he said, one of the first things he will do is plan a statewide summit on revitalizing small businesses. He wants to create a jobs fund that would help businesses expand by tapping $100 million from the state’s pension fund and $400 million from private banks. And he proposes to move much of the state’s money from large banks to smaller, community banks that may be more likely to lend to small businesses.

His own prowess at spreading campaign contributions may prompt questions if he is elected treasurer, however. Grossman said he does not intend to stop fund-raising for Democrats if he wins the election.

The issue could be a delicate one. Cahill, the current treasurer, was dogged by pay-to-play allegations after receiving contributions from contributors tied to an investment manager who works with the state’s pension fund. Concerns have been raised nationwide about investment advisers’ political contributions and whether they influence their selection as state fund managers.

Grossman said he would seek legal advice and craft a clear policy for continued fund-raising.

“I don’t want to be ever seen in a position . . . that would undermine my credibility as treasurer,’’ Grossman said.

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at ebbert@globe.com.