By Nick Grabbe
Amherst now has two Political Action Committees (PACs) that are poised to support candidates in the Nov. 2 town election.
Amherst Forward has been around for more than two years, and succeeded Amherst for All, the group that successfully lobbied for the new town charter. The Progressive Coalition of Amherst formed last month.
The activity of these PACs is regulated by the Commonwealth, and all the required filings are posted on the Town Clerk’s website at https://www.amherstma.gov/1327/Campaign-Finance-Reports. Donors giving $50 or more in a calendar year must be identified and then reported.
I sent the same email to both groups, asking the questions you see below. Amherst Forward provided answers, but the Progressive Coalition declined to do so. Instead, its board referred me to their press release and website. Where relevant, I have quoted from those two documents.
(Full disclosure: My blog partner, Sarah Marshall, is part of Amherst Forward’s leadership but did not communicate with either PAC about this post or edit any responses.)
Why did you establish a PAC? What are you allowed to do, and what are you prohibited from doing?
“We established a PAC for the sake of transparency. As a PAC, we’re required to publish how much money we raise, and how it was spent, all according to state-mandated legal requirements. Informal, unregulated groups in town have been doing the same type of organizing for years, but there’s no clear way to know anything about their technically informal efforts.
“As a PAC, we’re allowed to formally support candidates, and while we can legally donate directly to campaigns, we choose not to do so. Any contributions we make are ‘in kind’ contributions, such as postcard mailers on which we endorse several candidates at a time. We have no real need to build up a huge campaign war chest. We accept no more than $52 per person per year – a dollar a day for advocacy, only from individuals (not corporations or other political organizations) who live in Amherst.
“We’re prohibited from advocating on behalf of federal or state legislation. And while there are some contribution limits for PACs, we don’t even come close to approaching those limits. “
The Progressive Coalition of Amherst did not respond to the second of these two questions Here is a quote from board member Jennifer Page that relates to the first question, from the group’s press release:
“We feel that the time is ripe in Amherst for a political action committee that truly supports progressive causes. It is becoming more and more clear that town government is not only about zoning and development; it’s a venue where issues like
racial equity, reparations for Black residents, police violence, and more, can be addressed. At the same time, we know that Amherst residents have been disappointed by the actions of our town government when it comes to development and zoning decisions in the downtown area.”
What are your top priorities? Do you see current policies or officials as blocking progress on your priorities?
“Also in the spirit of transparency, we publish our priorities on our website, www.amherstforward.org. We just updated them, in fact:
- Deeper civic participation: Inclusive, informed, robust resident participation that engages a wider cross-section of residents and helps them remain informed on the issues
- Development balance: Supporting policies that strike a good balance between smart, strategic development and protecting open spaces
- Infrastructure to support town needs: Equitable, excellent civic infrastructure that matches our progressive ideals and expectations
“On the question of whether current policies or officials are blocking progress on these priorities, no, that’s not the case. People in Amherst broadly agree on our priorities. When we disagree, it’s usually about how best to achieve those priorities.”
Progressive Coalition of Amherst’s “initial focus,” from press release:
“● Thoughtful planning and zoning policies to assure that development is designed to benefit the town and the community as a whole
● Initiatives and programs to attract and support locally-owned small shops and restaurants
● Transparency and fiscal responsibility by town government
● Increasing the availability of affordable housing
● Properly maintained roads and sidewalks for all modes of transportation
● Sensible and well-informed spending for any municipal renovation or construction
● Prioritizing public safety resources for mental health, addiction, and other social services, including fully funding the recommendations of the Community Safety Working Group
● Robust reparations for Black residents
● A well-crafted school budget that prioritizes the needs of students
● Significantly reducing the town’s carbon footprint
● A fully inclusive democracy, and protection of voting rights for all residents
● Accessible social and cultural programs for the community”
Will you promote or endorse candidates for Town Council, School Committee, Jones Library Board of Trustees, and Housing Authority?
“We will endorse candidates for the Council, the School Committee, and the Jones Library Board of Trustees. We’ve never endorsed candidates for the Housing Authority and have no current plans to do so.”
Progressive Coalition of Amherst (from their web site):
“We are working to assemble a pool of progressive candidates who can bring unique perspectives to the Amherst Town Council, School Committee, and Jones Library Board of Trustees. We’re looking for people who are willing to fight for needed changes.”
What is your position on the elementary school project: One building or two? On the Jones Library project? On a new fire station and Public Works building?
“Our support for a single elementary school building project is one of the reasons our organization was launched. We support a single new building project built with the help of MSBA funding, to replace Wildwood and Fort River schools. At this point we can’t believe anyone in town is still talking about two buildings.
“We support the Jones Library project. And we support a new fire station and Public Works building, although those plans are not as far along in terms of specifics. We know all these key elements of our infrastructure in Amherst are desperately needed – they’ve been in discussion for decades and they’re long overdue.”
The Progressive Coalition of Amherst did not respond to these questions.
Do you have a policy regarding privacy of the information you collect from donors and subscribers?
“Our policy is that we do not share any of that information with any third parties, including candidates for public office. That means we don’t share our large, constantly growing list of supporters with any campaigns. As a PAC, we are legally obligated to share donor information with state regulators – another win for transparency.”
The Progressive Coalition of Amherst did not respond to this question.