Sheriff Hodgson

Thomas Hodgson

A national watchdog group is highlighting Bristol County’s Thomas Hodgson in a new report scrutinizing political donations to elected sheriffs across the country and the state.

Common Cause says in the report, issued this week, that special interest money given to sheriffs’ campaigns represents a conflict of interest and endangers inmates.

Sheriffs in Massachusetts received $2.6 million in what Common Cause described as “potentially conflicted donations,” but the group does not say campaign laws were broken.

Hodgson, a Republican, was appointed to fill a vacancy in 1997 and has been elected four times as the county’s sheriff. Earlier this week, Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux, a Democrat, announced his intention to run against Hodgson.

Hodgson was among the top five recipients of sheriff’s donations in the state, the report stated.

His campaign received $324,870. The others went to sheriffs in Suffolk County, $319,002; Hampden County, $396,604; Worcester County, $504,516; and Plymouth County, $738,008.

The report, called the “Paid Jailer: How Sheriffs’ Campaign Dollars Shape Mass Incarceration,” was co-authored by Communities for Sheriff Accountability, a coalition of prison reform advocates and researchers.

Common Cause said sheriffs should not be receiving campaign contributions from companies that do business with them or provide health care or other services to avoid potential conflicts.

“Sheriffs are politicians who make major decisions about health and safety for millions of Americans, and they shouldn’t be up for sale to the highest bidder,” the report says.

The report cites contributions to sheriffs from construction, food services, prison health and other businesses that do business with sheriffs.

“I think the report is garbage. It really is garbage,” Hodgson said Thursday.

He said the vendors hired by his office win contracts that are put out to bid as required by state law. Hodgson added that he, like other elected officials, are required to file campaign finance and ethics reports.

“For them to suggest that there is some sort of quid pro quo is ridiculous,” he said.

Hodgson said sheriffs receive campaign donations just like other elected officials, including mayors and congressional representatives.

“It costs money to run a campaign,” Hodgson said.

No one, including employees who are donors, is forced to give money and people have a right to donate to anyone they support, he said.

The report criticizes Hodgson for accepting more than $12,000 in donations from CPS Health Care, the medical contractor for the jail.

The report noted more than 30 inmates have died since the mid-2000s in Bristol County facilities, including from suicides, substance abuse withdrawal and other causes.

In response, Hodgson said 27 people have died and that all deaths in the jail are investigated by state police and the district attorney’s office.

“People die in prison. None of us want to see that,” Hodgson said, adding that prisoners die for a variety of causes such as cancer or other diseases.

Hodgson called the report’s co-author, Communities for Sheriff Accountability, a “left wing” group whose goal is to make sheriffs appointed instead of elected.

The report recommends a series of policy changes to curb conflicts of interest and ethical issues raised by donations by corporations and individuals seeking contracts with sheriff’s departments.

It calls for more transparency and disclosure laws and recommends citizen-funded elections and programs to take away the influence of big-money donors and special interests.

They include matching funds programs, voucher programs, and raising qualifying contributions to receive a lump-sum grant.

The report is available at thepaidjailer.org.

David Linton may be reached at 508-236-0338.