Campaign Finance Reform Melee
highest court is now refereeing a campaign reform fight with constitutional
implications that has angry voter groups in one corner and a stubborn
legislature in the other.
Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments on Thursday, February
7, 2002, outlining proposed remedies to end the gridlock on the
states Clean Elections Law, set to go into effect this election
cycle. The mess began in 1998 when voters passed a ballot measure
to implement a law that would allow candidates in state elections
to receive public funding if they adhere to strict fund-raising
and spending restrictions.
ballot measure did not provide for a specific funding mechanism,
subjecting it to the legislative appropriations process. Since passage
of the law over three years ago, it has been reported that approximately
$20 million was initially set aside, but no further revenue has
been appropriated. That amount is far from enough to fund mainstream
candidates, not to mention those now coming out of the woodwork,
grubbing for their stake of the campaign treasure trove. Without
the funds necessary to put the law into practice, it is basically
January 25, the court handed down a 5-2 decision, ruling that the
legislature is violating the state constitution by neglecting to
appropriate money necessary to implement the measure. The court
ruled that the lawmakers have two choices: fund the law or repeal
a result of that ruling, The Boston Globe reports
that state lawmakers are discussing four options which include repealing
the law, putting it before the voters again, exempting candidates
running for the state legislature, and appropriating $70 million
in taxpayer funds to implement it. They are also counting votes
to see if they have enough to override an inevitable veto by Governor
Jane Swift of any attempt to repeal the law. The Globe further
reports that opponents of the measure are "furiously polling"
representatives to see which of the options will be the most viable.
is not clear what solution policymakers will be able to agree on,
if any. If they dont act quickly, however, the court must
continue its task of balancing the rights of the voters (who have
a right under Massachusetts law to qualify and vote on ballot measures)
with the rights of a legislative branch that sees this as a law
unworthy of funding.
February 8, 2001]
Legislature Passes Watered-down Campaign Finance "Reform"
last we visited the debate over a voter-approved campaign
finance "reform" measure in Massachusetts, the state
legislature was under the gun from the Supreme Judicial Court
to find a way to fund the law set to take effect this upcoming
election cycle, or repeal it.
February 15, the Massachusetts State House followed the lead
of the Senate in passing a "compromise" bill that
will put a watered-down version of the Clean Elections law
in place for the upcoming 2002 elections.
debate stems from a 1998 voter-approved ballot measure that
provides public campaign funding to all candidates
who agree to specific fundraising restrictions. The problem
was that the legislature never set enough money aside to adequately
fund all of the candidates. The new bill would provide $6
million dollars of public funds (out of a pot of approximately
$22 million) to the only two candidates who have met the laws
strict requirements Warren Tolman is running for governor,
James Eldridge for state representative.
Joseph Wagner argued that this bill "is a compromise;
not everybody gets all of what they like." Regardless,
the so-called compromise has left many candidates and voters
fuming. Shannon OBrien, a Democrat running for governor,
said, "When the people of Massachusetts voted for Clean
Elections this surely isnt what they had in mind."
may still have a glimmer of hope. Governor Jane Swift has
promised to veto the bill, and lawmakers may be unable to
come up with the necessary votes to override her. That would
leave open the door for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial
Court to step in and implement a compromise of its own.
is the latest in a long line of slaps in the face to voters,
but importantly, neither chamber is even close to a two-thirds
override, and we hope the governor will veto them," stated
David Donnelly of Massachusetts Voters for Clean Elections.
lawmakers also voted to quickly redirect the $16 million left
in the fund toward human service needs, such as employment
assistance services, funding for social service case workers,
and home care assistance for the elderly. Those against publicly
funding political campaigns argue that the money will be better
utilized in those programs. "Real people are calling
my office with pink slips and saying I just lost my
job. I have a responsibility to those people,"
said Rep. Kevin Fitzgerald (D-Boston).
"compromise" bill also places a non-binding referendum
on the November ballot that will once again put the Clean
Elections issue before voters. This time, the language was
drafted to the legislators specifications, which they
hope will lessen confusion because it clearly states what
voters will be voting for. The language will read: "Do
you support taxpayer money being used to fund political campaigns
for public office in Massachusetts?" If voters defeat
it, lawmakers will remove the Clean Elections law from the
approving the Senate bill, the State House tacked on one modification
of its own, by changing the word "clean" in the
statute to "taxpayer funded," in the apparent hope
of quelling any dirty or corrupt images the public may have
of those among them opposed to publicly-funded campaigns.
Governor Swift vetoes the bill, will the Supreme Judicial
Court be left holding the Clean Elections bag or will it be
left up to the voters to defeat the issue once and for all
at the ballot box in November? Stay tuned as the saga continues
5 , 2002
Court Rules on Clean Elections Remedy
February 25, 2002, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
(SJC) ruled that gubernatorial candidate Warren Tolman is
entitled to more than $800,000 in public funds for his election
campaign under the Clean Elections law. The ruling may exacerbate
the constitutional showdown among the Court, the Legislature,
and the Executive Branch.
decision stems from a suit filed last August by Mr. Tolman
and a coalition of Clean Elections supporters after the Legislature
failed to implement the law. In a 5-2 opinion, the SJC outlines
a remedy process for other candidates seeking public funds
under the voter-approved law. Aggrieved candidates could appear
before a member of the SJC, who could award monetary damages
in the amount the candidate is guaranteed under the law.
ruling orders Governor Jane Swift to provide the public funds
to Tolman. However, it is unclear where the money will come
from if other candidates are awarded damages, because only
the Legislative Branch, not the Executive Branch, is authorized
to appropriate funds. Swift has indicated that she is going
to send a bill to the Legislature seeking to transfer the
$23 million in Clean Elections funding already set aside to
an Executive Branch account used to pay court damages against
Swift is yet to fulfill her promise to veto legislation recently
approved by the legislature watering down the original law
and re-allocating a majority of the funding to other programs.
That bill also puts the measure back before the voters in
November, where support may be waning. According to a Boston
Herald poll, 55% of respondents now oppose public funding
for campaigns. The Boston Globe reports that neither
the House nor Senate has the votes to override Swifts