Unions, outside groups, funding millionaire tax, wage hike and paid leave proposals | State News

BOSTON — The group behind ballot initiatives to increase the minimum wage, tax the state’s top earners and mandate paid family and medical leave, raked in nearly $700,000 in campaign contributions last year, but most of the money came from labor unions and out-of-state liberal groups.

Raise Up Massachusetts — which includes labor, community groups, and faith-based organizations — raised $696,784 from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, including $185,343 worth of in-kind contributions, according to the group’s filings with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

The bulk of contributions — at least $688,342 — came from labor unions, national social justice groups and other special interests, the filings show.

By far, the largest contributor was the Service Employees International, whose New York- and Massachusetts-based political action funds contributed at least $137,750 last year, according to OCPF filings.

SEIU 1199, which represents more than 56,000 health care workers in Massachusetts, also spent nearly $82,000 in in-kind contributions that paid for signature gathering to qualify referendums for the 2018 ballot, office rents and other expenses, the filings show.

The AFL-CIO of Massachusetts’ main political action committee and regional locals gave $72,350 to the group last year.

Out-of-state groups also contributed heavily to Raise Up Massachusetts’ efforts to get its ballot initiatives onto the November ballot.

The Washington, D.C.-based Sixteen Thirty Fund, a social welfare group, contributed $110,000; The Fairness Project, a nonprofit devoted to raising the minimum wage, gave the group $20,000 and the National Association of Government Employees chipped in $20,000, according to OCPF filings.

The group spent about $483,000 last year, mostly on consulting fees and office expenses, leaving about $80,000 available in its campaign account.

Critics of the Raise Up Massachusetts’ initiatives say the fundraising is an example of how the efforts are being bankrolled by labor and special interest groups.

“It’s always been clear that these initiatives were being heavily supported financially by both unions and out of state groups, which is troubling,” said Chris Geehern, executive vice president of the pro-business group Associated Industries of Massachusetts, which opposes the ballot initiatives.

“The real question here is whether these ballot initiatives are created for the citizens of Massachusetts or the economic benefit of labor unions,” he said.

Representatives for Raise Up Massachusetts defended the group’s fundraising activity.

“Our coalition’s true power isn’t in raising money — it’s in the grass-roots activism of tens of thousands of working people across the state who collect signatures, call their legislators, and talk to voters,” Lew Finfer, the group’s co-chair, said in a statement.

“Raise Up Massachusetts is made up of three pillars: community groups, labor unions, and religious organizations, with each doing equal shares of our organizing work,” said Finfer, who is also co-director of Massachusetts Communities Action Network.

Raise Up Massachusetts is backing several proposals inching toward the November ballot, including one to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020.

The group is also behind a proposal to allow workers to take time off to care for a seriously ill or injured family member, or a new baby, for up to 16 weeks. During that period they would receive 90 percent of their average weekly wages, with a maximum weekly benefit of $1,000.

Workers recovering from their own injuries or illnesses would receive up to 26 weeks of paid medical leave, under the proposal.

Both proposals have cleared several hurdles to get on the November 2018 ballot.

The group is also pursuing a “millionaire tax” on the state’s top earners, with revenue from the 5 percent levy on those earning more than $1 million a year earmarked for education and transportation. That question has already been cleared for the 2018 ballot.

Business groups have filed a legal challenge, alleging that Attorney General Maura Healey should never have certified the question for the ballot.

Raise Up Massachusetts co-chair Deb Fastino accused opponents of the millionaires’ tax of using dark money to fund their campaign against the measure.

“Opponents of Raise Up Massachusetts are currently running a million-dollar legal campaign against the Fair Share Amendment and trying to block investments in transportation and public education without revealing the names of the wealthy corporate executives bankrolling their attack,” she said in a statement.

“In contrast, Raise Up Massachusetts’ funding, which is publicly disclosed, comes from tens of thousands of working people through the labor unions and community- and faith-based organizations that represent them,” she said.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at [email protected].