By Mike Deehan and Matt Murphy
State House News Service
BOSTON -- State Republican Party Chairwoman Kirsten Hughes on Monday called for a thorough and independent investigation into the campaign finances of Attorney General Martha Coakley following revelations of accounting problems with her federal campaign account and evidence that Coakley improperly used funds from the federal account for state political activities.
Hughes told reporters Monday that reports of Coakley's use of federal campaign funds to boost her campaign for governor are "very alarming."
Hughes said a Boston Globe story published Sunday, detailing how Coakley's state campaign may have illegally used funds from her federal campaign account to pay for advertising at the state Democratic Convention in Lowell over the summer, calls into question Coakley's fitness to serve as both governor and attorney general.
"The Mass GOP will file complaints with the FEC and the Office of Campaign and Political Finance in an effort to bring the truth to light on this matter," Hughes said at a press conference at state GOP headquarters. "Because the attorney general is supposed to be the chief enforcer of campaign-finance laws, an independent third party is needed to conduct an investigation into these very serious allegations."
The Globe reported Sunday that Coakley's federal campaign account, set up when she ran for U.S. Senate in 2009, was in disarray, with balances that didn't match reported expenditures and questionable expenses billed to the federal account for state activity.
A spokesman for Coakley's campaign said the attorney general kept the federal campaign account open after her 2010 loss to former Sen. Scott Brown to support federal activities of the Democratic Party and candidates, such as Sen. Edward Markey during his special election race this year.
Kyle Sullivan, a spokesman for Coakley's campaign for governor, said the FEC sent emails to a defunct email address notifying the committee of the problems, delaying action to remedy the discrepancies in the accounting.
"The committee was not aware of the issues with the reports because they did not receive the email notices," Sullivan said in a statement. "Once we were made aware of the issues, the campaign moved immediately to contact the FEC and address the issues. We are working to fix the problems and file amended reports to the FEC."
The Globe also reported that Coakley paid the $1,000 state party-convention fee and purchased a $1,200 ad in the convention booklet with federal campaign money, which is prohibited by state law. Coakley was not an official candidate for governor at the time, but was openly considering a possible run.
"We regret the error and will reimburse the funds," Sullivan said, adding that once the necessary amended reports are filed with the FEC, the Coakley Committee will move to close her federal campaign account by the end of the year.
Hughes said simply coming into compliance with the FEC on the matter and paying back the money would not be enough, arguing that the governor should appoint an independent investigator to look into the matter.
She also demanded that Coakley release details of the contract and work done with fundraising and volunteer database software purchased for $35,000 by her federal campaign committee after her 2010 U.S. Senate campaign.
Coakley's campaign insists the software was used only for federal purposes.
Gov. Deval Patrick told the News Service he has no intention of getting involved in the campaign-finance dispute. Asked if he would appoint an independent investigator, as requested by the Republican Party, Patrick said, "No. We have an agency that is responsible for that. If they have issues, they can take it over there," referring to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.
Treasurer Steven Grossman, who is also running for governor, declined to comment on the situation or on the Republican calls for an investigation.
"I'd really prefer not to comment," said Grossman, who is one of five Democrats, along with Coakley, vying for the 2014 Democratic nomination.
The Coakley campaign is defending as a proper federal campaign expenditure the $3,763.10 in credit-card charges that she accrued during her attendance as Massachusetts' attorney general at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
In a statement, State Democratic Party Chairman Sen. Thomas McGee said: "The Republican Party is attempting to deflect attention from the real financial issue we should all be discussing: the crisis we face in transportation as a result of the Big Dig financing decisions authored in the 1990s by Republican administrations and Charlie Baker."