BOSTON -- Democrat Terry Kennedy was stunned when he got a mailer from a super PAC with ties to Republican Gov. Charlie Baker supporting his bid for another term on the Governor's Council.
Kennedy, who faces a challenge in Tuesday's Democratic primary from Helina Fontes of Lynn, said he wasn't looking for help with his campaign.
"I didn't know about it, I didn't ask for it, and frankly I didn't want it," said Kennedy, a Lynnfield attorney, who is seeking a sixth term representing the 6th District, which includes several Essex County communities. "I have enough money and can run my own campaign."
The mailings cost $34,770 and were paid for by the Massachusetts Majority Political Action Committee, according to disclosures filed this week with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. The super PAC was set up last year by developers and business interests with close ties to the governor.
Kennedy isn't the only Democrat to get an unexpected boost from the committee. It is supporting at least 11 incumbent Democratic lawmakers in the upcoming elections, including Reps. Frank Moran, D-Lawrence, and Jerry Parisella, D-Beverly.
Marianela Rivera, a former Lawrence School Committee member who is challenging Moran in Tuesday's primary, said she wasn't surprised that the super PAC spent more than $5,000 on mailers supporting Moran.
Rivera suggests it might be over her push for education reforms and opposition to 2016 referendum to expand charter schools, which Baker supported.
"I'm fighting against the privatization of our schools," she said. "So it doesn't surprise me that people would push back against that, because they want to profit off our broken educational system."
The latest filings show the PAC has also spent $3,154 on mailings supporting Parisella, who is seeking a sixth term amid a challenge from Democrat Richard Canavan Wagner of Beverly.
To be sure, the PAC has also spent money supporting Republicans, including about $2,600 on Shishan Wang of Andover, who is running against Jeffrey DuFour of Tewskbury in the GOP primary for the 18th Essex District. The winner will face incumbent Rep. Tram Nguyen, D-Andover, in the Nov. 3 election.
Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of candidates, but they cannot legally coordinate expenditures with campaigns they're backing.
The Massachusetts Majority PAC has raised more than $1.2 million and spent $435,982 on candidates since it was formed last year, according to its disclosures.
While the PAC has no explicit ties to Baker, it was set up by his supporters to back Republican and Democratic candidates that the governor supports.
Neither committee members or Baker's political team responded to calls for comment. The governor has acknowledged that he supports the PAC's efforts but isn't involved with it.
Among the PAC's largest donors are Wayfair co-founders Niraj Shah and Steven Conine, Granite Telecommunications CEO Robert Hale, and John Fish, the president and CEO of Suffolk Construction.
Baker shocked political observers this week when he waded into a contentious Democratic primary by throwing his support behind U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, who is facing a challenge from Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse.
Neal’s campaign told reporters he didn’t seek the endorsement.
Scott Ferson, a Democratic consultant and strategist, said he isn't sure why the Baker-tied PAC is getting involved in the party's primary races.
He is working with incumbent Rep. David Rogers, D-Cambridge, whose reelection campaign the PAC has also supported with political mailings.
"It's a head scratcher," he said. "I understand the Governor's Council, because the council is important to the governor. But the legislative races don't make any sense."
Ferson says its possible the PAC's targeted expenditures are part of larger effort testing the waters in those districts for Baker to seek a third term as governor.
"My guess is they're kicking the tires on a Baker third term," he said. "If he's going to run again, he's going to need the Democratic support."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.