While most people aren’t watching, a group of out-of-town, Trump-supporting billionaires are trying to buy for Donna Colorio, a local Trump supporter and former school committee member with very little local support, a seat on the city council. While Colorio makes property taxes her public campaign issue, the people really behind her campaign are too rich and too far out of town to care or, probably, to even notice how the issue would affect local homeowners or businesses.
When conversation turns to local elections, the vast majority of people in any municipality, from vast cities like New York or Los Angeles to the tiniest of hamlets in Appalachia, tune out. For whatever reason, most people don’t pay attention to local politics, generally noticing only what’s happening on the national scene.
This is exactly how the big money interests want it.
A common pattern
Across the country, and here in Massachusetts, wealthy Republicans donors are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into shadowy SuperPACs aiming to continue building their power base through local elections. While the majority of Americans are Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents, Republicans – especially the now dominant extremist wing of the GOP – have been able to cement their power by quietly backing candidates in local, hardly noticed elections. They’ve used the positions they’ve bought in municipal governments to build their way up to state legislatures and governorships, and then, in state after state, to change the electoral map to make it nearly impossible for Democrats or moderates to win, even when most people support them.
In Worcester, the dark money interests have chosen Donna Colorio.
Colorio could win with bought votes
Colorio, who was booted off the school committee in 2017 for her right-wing politics, is running for city councilor at large and for mayor. Perhaps it seems hard to imagine that someone too extreme – she’s opposed to gay marriage and a real sex education curriculum, for example – for the school committee might be able to win a council city in a city like Worcester, she certainly could. Because such a small percentage of people vote, and because of the city’s strange partially “at-large” system of elections, only a few thousand votes are needed to win a seat. In 2017, for example, Konstantina Lukes was able to secure a seat with only 7,103 votes. Meanwhile, the popular Mayor Joe Petty only took 11,119 votes for mayor. The city has nearly 190,000 people.
In a system like Worcester’s, where just a few thousand votes can change the outcome of who becomes mayor (especially this year, when there is a three-way race between Petty, Colorio, and a lesser-known third candidate), a Colorio victory is certainly a possibility, even if it’s not the will of the overwhelming majority of the voters. Targeted mailings only need to sway a few thousand voters – and no one has more targeted mailings that she does.
Campaign bought and paid for by out-of-town billionaires
While Colorio brands herself as an “independent voice,” the idea that she is such is nonsensical, as evinced by the expensive, glossy mailings that have been sent on her behalf. I’ve received already several pieces of mail supporting her, including the famous (in Worcester) piece on which the city’s name was spelled wrong in the largest font. Very few candidates are able to send out three city-wide pieces of mail, and such is the case with Colorio. According to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, Colorio has never had more than $7,000 in her campaign bank account, and could only afford to spend $7,711.96 all year, plus the cost of the one and only mailing her campaign did, which has not yet been reported.
Altogether, Colorio raised $11,472.92 through 90 donations. For comparison’s sake, Etel Haxhiaj, who place a few hundred votes ahead of Colorio in the September primary, raised $27,711.00 through a whopping 407 donations.
But the “official” campaign finances only tell part of the story. I’ve previously written that Colorio’s campaign has not been the epitome of local organizing success: of the 75 individual people who’ve given her money, 32 have been from out of town. But the overwhelming majority of money spent on Colorio’s campaign is coming from outside of it. It’s quite apparent that Colorio, far from being “an independent voice,” is a bought-and-paid for tool of out of town millionaires and billionaires, working through a paper organization formed exclusively to funnel money to right-wing candidates. And these people are extreme: while there any number of billionaires in the Democratic Party, the people funding Colorio have maintained their loyalty to an organization that has been transformed into a Donald Trump personality cult.
Colorio’s own mailing likely cost somewhere around $8,000, based on what other candidates have spent for similar mailings. But more than one mailing has come from something called the “Massachusetts Majority Independent Expenditure PAC.” While candidates like Haxhiaj and others, including the current mayor, have been making do with donations of up to $500 or and getting their biggest organizational donations from some union or environmental group, Colorio has benefited from this shadowy non-organization’s largesse. Formed on paper solely to funnel money from the ultra rich to right-wing candidates, Massachusetts Majority has spent a whopping $38,130 for Colorio, $12,710 in mailings on Oct. 18, 21, and 25. For comparison, the current mayor has received $46,274.09 in donations – since the beginning of the year.
Who supports Massachusetts Majority? I investigated in a previous post, and found that the donors consisted of billionaires and millionaires from other towns and cities, including the CEO and a board member of Wayfair, Inc.. That CEO is perhaps most known for vowing to find “non-political” workers after the corporation’s staff walked off the job because the company was selling furniture to Trump’s children’s internment camps at the border. Now, however, OCPF has published the most recent data.
Reading through OCPF data for Massachusetts Majority, one finds the picture the numbers paint entirely different from a small city’s municipal election. The two Trump-supporting Wayfair executives, for example, each dropped $50,000 dollars in donations to the PAC. Robert Hale, CEO of Granite Telecommunications, donated $100,000. Some of these corporate donors were actual corporations: Atlantic Development and the Fallon Company dropped $25,000 each in donations. Bankers and real estate developers are heavily represented.
Colorio is one of only 15 people these club of the super-rich supports.
Why are the ultra-rich supporting Colorio?
One has to ask oneself why a group of billionaires would select Colorio as one of their only 15 candidates across the state. For some of them, it’s obvious: they’re either hard-right Republicans or are in a position to help the few wealthy Massachusetts Majority donors in big business dealings. Colorio styles herself as the only candidate who’ll vote for the lowest property tax for homeowners, a position that would either mean collapsing the city’s budget or raising taxes dramatically on local businesses. The people supporting Colorio are so far removed from the city of Worcester, and so wealthy, that the issue of the city’s tax rate doesn’t even matter to them at all. Will Colorio’s position cause local businesses to go under? So much the better, maybe it will help business in their town, but, either way, they reason, so what? Her official messaging isn’t the reason they support her.
Colorio’s literature is full of vague promises and platitudes like “fix our roads” (the word “our” is interesting, given that the message is paid for by people who live nowhere near Worcester) or “support the superintendent.” Why would anyone care if a city councilor supports the superintendent (of schools)? The council has no power over her at all; this is the purview of the school committee. Colorio also wants to “strengthen public safety and fight the opioid crisis” and to “bring common sense.” Who could be against that? Clearly, the businessmen supporting Colorio don’t care about any of that.
Same politics as Trump
Massachusetts Majority’s elite donors care about two things: Trump-style politics and money. Colorio already has the right-wing politics, though she hides it on her fliers. She’s against gay marriage and real sex education. Further, as the chair of the Republican City Committee, she is responsible for all of the vile filth on that organization’s Facebook page, which trafficks in bashing Sen. Warren, the Democratic Party, “the mainstream media,” and supporting Trump at his worst moments. Most recently, her group has a post about Hilary Clinton plotting to kill Sen. Warren. (“Looks like I’ll be the nominee,” says Warren, to which Clinton replies, “Only if you survive your accident…”) Check out their page. These are her real politics.
Obviously, Colorio and these billionaires share the same desires: they want to ensure that Trump’s movement (Colorio was an early supporter of the Tea Party movement, which paved the way for Trump) moves forward, and they want to enact policies that benefit the ultra-rich, those so endowed with cash that Worcester’s ongoing tax debate is paltry by comparison.
The choice is clear: either Worcester hands success to a Trump supporter who values the interests of multinational billionaires over local residents and businesses; or enough people come out to vote for Joe Petty for mayor that her results are laughable in comparison, and we hand more votes to six people who are not her to keep her off the council.