Coalition: OCPF complaint based on “willful misunderstanding” of law

Massachusetts

BOSTON (SHNS) – Opponents of a new worker benefits ballot question campaign on Monday asked state campaign finance regulators to investigate the question’s backers, who alleged in response that the complaint is based on a “willful misunderstanding” of state law.

In a complaint to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, opposition leader Mike Firestone, alleged the industry-backed coalition pushing the proposal failed to disclose money it raised and spent before announcing its intention to pursue a ballot question.

Firestone said the coalition, funded by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart, hired consultants, printed signs and other campaign materials, and raised funds before it made its ballot question bid official and formed an OCPF committee on Tuesday.

Knocking the tactics of the “Big Tech lobbying group,” he included images in his complaint of paid ads, including in MassterList, promoting the coalition’s broad efforts to secure changes to state law concerning worker status and benefits for app-based drivers.

“None of these expenditures have been reported as required,” Firestone, who is leading the Coalition to Protect Workers’ Rights, wrote. His group convened its own OCPF ballot question committee on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the Coalition for Independent Work alleged that the complaint includes “false claims” intended to distract from the question.

“Last week, drivers spoke up in favor of this ballot question because they support the flexibility and benefits it provides by an overwhelming 7:1 margin,” spokesperson Conor Yunits said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that others would try to draw attention away from what drivers clearly want by making false claims based on their willful misunderstanding of Massachusetts campaign finance law. We remain focused on one thing: ensuring drivers’ voices are heard by securing new benefits for them while protecting their flexibility.”

Since it launched in March, the Massachusetts Coalition for Independent Work has been publicly advocating for changes to state law that would declare app-based drivers to be independent contractors rather than employees — a practice that Attorney General Maura Healey alleges violates existing labor and wage laws — while also offering them access to some additional benefits. The companies and drivers who support the proposal say it would help maintain worker flexibility.

The group neither committed to nor ruled out a ballot question campaign until last week. On Tuesday, sponsors filed an initiative petition seeking to put the matter before voters in 2022 and organized a campaign finance arm known as the Flexibility and Benefits for Massachusetts Drivers Committee.

Committee officials indicated in their paperwork that “no money has been raised or spent prior to the organization of the ballot question committee,” which Firestone alleged is a “false claim.”

Firestone pointed to the companies’ efforts in California, where Uber, Lyft and DoorDash together spent more than $200 million successfully advocating for passage of a similar ballot question, and asked OCPF to “hold them accountable.”

In addition to the brewing battle over the initiative petition, the companies supporting the question have also prodded lawmakers to advance legislation pending on Beacon Hill, while opponents back Healey’s related lawsuit against Uber and Lyft.

The review will play out under a new top regulator. Former Woburn City Clerk William Campbell took over as OCPF director in April, succeeding longtime chief Michael Sullivan. Campbell, who ran for secretary of state as a Republican in 2010 and has since unenrolled from the party, described himself as someone who is “as nonpartisan as you can get.”

State campaign finance law requires corporations or associations to disclose all expenditures made to promote or oppose a ballot question, including some “made in anticipation that a question will appear on a ballot.”

Some expenditures are not subject to campaign finance law, such as money paid to draft a ballot question before it is certified or on polling to survey how voters feel about an issue, according to OCPF guidance.

An OCPF spokesperson said the office neither confirms nor denies the existence of specific cases.

Complaints are resolved in one of four ways: via an administrative close, when OCPF’s legal department determines there is no reason to believe a violation occurred; in a public resolution letter; in a legal disposition agreement between OCPF and the subject of the review; and in referral to the attorney general’s office.

The office only issues press releases for disposition agreements, which often involve a mandatory payment by the entity investigated, and posts letters from the more informal public resolution process online.

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