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Report: Keep Special Interests Out of Sheriffs' Elections

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Wednesday, January 12, 2022   

A new report recommends changes to the way political campaigns are paid for, analyzing contributions to local sheriffs' races in 11 states, including Massachusetts.

The report from the group Common Cause found many potential conflicts of interest among sheriffs and their political donors, such as those seeking contracts with the sheriffs' departments.

Max Rose, founder and exexutive director of the advocacy group Sheriffs for Trusting Communities, noted that sheriffs have a wide range of powers, particularly in rural and suburban areas; they make arrests, control county jail facilities and play a lead role in civil enforcements.

"The private sector is touching the sheriff's role at every point," he said. "In the policing role, companies sell body armor, and increasingly powerful weapons to sheriffs. They sell the cars that leads to increased patrol and policing. In the jail role, the private-sector companies are designing and building new jails."

In Bristol County, according to the report, CPS Healthcare donated more than $20,000 to the local sheriff and has received almost $10 million in contracts from the county.

Beth Rotman, director of Common Cause's money in politics and ethics program, said some states such as New York and Connecticut have passed laws limiting contributions from individuals or entities seeking to do business with the state or city. She said she thinks Massachusetts and other states should follow that example, and also consider boosting the role of small-dollar donations.

"Small-donor democracy, also called public financing, can come in different forms - where individuals running for office raise small-dollar contributions, and then there's a government match," she said. "Or sometimes, there's a voucher program where they're actually even given the initial funding from the government itself."

Rotman said the report also urges Congress to strengthen transparency and disclosure laws, so the public gets greater access to information on who is funding political campaigns.


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