PITTSFIELD — Both legislative races in Berkshire County are producing campaign finance-related disputes as the House and Senate contests move closer to the Sept. 8 primary election.
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield and Michael Bloomberg, her Democratic challenger for the 3rd Berkshire District House seat, traded barbs Friday over what the incumbent said in a press release was the introduction of "dark money" contributions in support of her opponent.
And Senate candidate Andrea Harrington sent a release critical of opponent Adam Hinds, calling on him to "return campaign contributions from Boston and out of state lobbyists representing large energy companies and big oil."
Farley-Bouvier said in her statement: "On Aug. 30, the organization Democrats for Education Reform, an organization tied to hedge fund executives in favor of lifting the charter school cap, reported spending $3,830 in support of Mr. Bloomberg's campaign."
She noted that Bloomberg has said he opposes the Nov. 8 ballot question aimed at lifting the cap on new charter schools and the number of student placements, saying, "Mr. Bloomberg has repeatedly told the people of Pittsfield that he is against lifting the cap on charter schools; meanwhile, he has taken substantial support from a group whose main mission is to lift the Charter cap. This group invested serious dollars into getting Question 2 on the ballot, they are pouring millions into marketing to get it passed and they are now interfering in local elections."
Bloomberg responded in an email to The Eagle, "I am against lifting the charter cap. I see this is becoming an issue because one of the pro-lifting groups has decided to support me in the race. I believe (have not confirmed) it is just because they see me as more in favor of overall [education] reform than [Farley-Bouvier]."
He said in a subsequent interview that it is important to note that the group did not directly contributed to his campaign, but decided to support him in the race through its own mailing. He added that when he filled out a questionnaire sent by the group on his positions on education, he stated, "I do not support a lifting of the charter cap given the current funding model for education ... I do support working to bring charter-like benefits to the local school districts through Innovation and Horace Mann schools and through cooperation of currently existing Commonwealth charters."
Farley-Bouvier, who has spoken against raising the charter cap, said she refused to participate in the group's questionnaire process.
In her release, Harrington said of some of the contributions Hinds has received "came from lobbyists and top officials representing companies including ExxonMobil, the New England Power Generators Association, and Berkshire Gas."
She later cited two $100 contributions from employees of O'Neill & Associates, of Boston, which represents companies in the energy industry.
Hinds' campaign manager, Jason Ostrander, responded Friday that the campaign was not initially aware of the firm's link to the industry.
Harrington added, "I am deeply troubled that Adam Hinds has been raising money from Boston and out of state lobbyists representing big fossil fuel conglomerates. Our next state Senator needs to be prepared to stand up to these special interests and protect our environment and the natural beauty of our region."
In addition, Harrington stated, Hinds has "explicitly stated that he signed a pledge not to accept money from big energy ... It is concerning that he hasn't stuck to his word, and I hope that he will return these contributions immediately."
Hinds responded in an email: "A friend of mine works for Exxon-Mobil in Australia. This person is not a top official in the company. He was a grad school classmate of mine and we were in Baghdad together as well when I worked for the UN. He contributed to my campaign in March 2016 (not in his professional capacity, but because he is my friend and wanted to help from afar). This past Monday, August 29th, I proudly took a pledge with 350-Massachusetts to not accept money from big fossil fuel companies. I reviewed our donor list at that time and saw the potential conflict and returned my personal friend's money that day. The reporting period ended August 21st and therefore this action is not reflected in this report."
Hinds added, "Regarding a donation from an employee of Berkshire Gas, this is an individual who paid $50 to come to an event. It was unsolicited and he came in his personal capacity. I have been clear with him regarding my opposition to the [Kinder Morgan] pipeline as I have been with all voters consistently on this campaign.
What's important is I am serious about tackling climate change and accelerating the transition to renewable energy. That's why I signed the 350-Mass pledge and why I have made energy and the environment a central part of my campaign."
The two Democratic Senate candidates also are opposed by Rinaldo Del Gallo in the Sept. 8 primary.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.