BOSTON — The election is 10 months off, but already committees supporting and opposing questions on the November ballot have raised more than $2.4 million.
By far the most money has come from labor unions including the Massachusetts Nurses Association, which backs a proposal calling for strict nurse-to-patient ratios in hospitals, and the Service Employees International Union and other labor unions that are backing three questions, including one that would gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.
If past is prologue, those fundraising numbers will continue to soar between now and Election Day.
The group that raised the most last year — the Committee to Ensure Safe Patient Care — relied heavily on union money.
The group is pushing the question that would require nurse-to-patient ratios and has raised nearly all of the $1,051,300 it pulled in last year from the Massachusetts Nurses Association.
The group says the question would increase patient safety by setting a maximum limit on the number of patients assigned to a nurse at any one time.
An organization opposed to the question — the Coalition to Protect Patient Safety — raised a single $10,000 donation last year from the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, which says the question will drive up costs.
The group that has raised the next highest amount during 2017 was Raise Up Massachusetts which brought in $511,441. The group supports the minimum wage question and a question that would help guarantee paid family and medical leave for workers.
It also backs a proposed constitutional amendment dubbed the “millionaire tax” that would impose a 4 percent surtax, on top of the state’s regular income tax, on any portion of an individual’s annual income that exceeds $1 million.
Much of that group’s money also came from organized labor including the Service Employees International Union, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and other unions, including the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the National Association of Government Employees. The group has also pulled in $110,000 from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a Washington DC-based advocacy group.
Another group that raised a hefty sum in 2017 — Freedom for All Massachusetts — is hoping to persuade voters not to repeal a 2016 state law barring discrimination on the basis of gender identity in public accommodations. The law allows transgender people to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identities.
Freedom for All Massachusetts reported collecting $356,805 in 2017 and also relied in part on union money with a Service Employees International Union political action committee contributing $100,000. The American Civil Liberties Union, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and the Human Rights Campaign — an LGBTQ advocacy group — also contributed to the group.
Keep Massachusetts Safe, the group pushing for the repeal of the 2016 law, reported raising $13,368 in 2017. The money came entirely from individual Massachusetts residents.
In some cases no groups have yet formed on the opposite side of an issue.
A group supporting a question that would lower the tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent — Massachusetts Main Street Fairness Coalition — reported collecting $326,750 in 2017, virtually all of it from the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. The question would also require the state to designate a weekend in August of each year as a sales-tax free weekend for most items.
No group has filed papers with the state Office of Campaign and Political finance to oppose the question. The office also reports that no groups have filed in opposition to the minimum wage, family leave or millionaire tax questions.
Another question with no organized opposition yet would support an effort to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The group backing the question — People Govern, Not Money — reported raising more than $108,000, much of it in small dollar amounts.
It’s likely that spending on ballot questions will jump in coming months.
Overall spending by both sides of a single ballot question in 2016 that would have let Massachusetts add up to a dozen new or expanded charter schools annually outside of existing caps topped $43 million. The question failed.
While there are limits on the amount of money individuals can contribute to political candidates, there is no limit to donations to ballot question committees.