Byline: Shaun Sutner
Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. racked up nearly $72,400 last year in campaign expenditures, spending thousands of dollars on pricey fundraisers at country clubs and downtown restaurants and donations to dozens of community groups and other Democratic candidates.
Mr. Early's spending, which ranked him 13th among Central Massachusetts candidates, came despite not having an opponent. The 53-year-old DA said it is important to keep up his political profile whether or not he's opposed for re-election.
"You've got to raise money and you've got to spend money to enhance your political future," he said, referring to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance guiding rule for allowable spending. "You raise money in election years and non-election years. Money is the lifeblood of politics."
Mr. Early and other elected officials with substantial campaign war chests justify their spending on entertainment, gifts to constituents, car leases, cell phone bills, international travel, donations to private groups and many other items as not only allowable by campaign finance rules, but also as critical to political survival.
"It's part of political life," Mr. Early said.
Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray ($2.3 million), former sheriff and state auditor candidate Guy W. Glodis ($1.1 million) and former state representative and treasurer candidate Karyn E. Polito ($1.06 million) were the top Central Massachusetts spenders in 2010.
They were followed by five candidates who spent more than $100,000, a group headed by Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis, who spent $225,727 to defeat former state police superintendent Thomas J. Foley, who laid out $149,885 in a losing cause.
The list of the region's top 20 biggest spenders also included other unopposed candidates, including state Rep. Vincent A. Pedone, D-Worcester, and state Sen. Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury; and even a retired elected official, former longtime district attorney John J. Conte, who retired in 2006 and has made many donations to churches, civic organizations and charities.
Candidates often point to Massachusetts' low campaign contribution limits, strict reporting requirements, ban on corporate donations and restrictions on lobbyist giving.
But some observers note that the rules are so loose on how officeholders and seekers can spend their money that politicians often appear to be using their campaign accounts as personal slush funds.
"It's too bad, but many...