CLT Update
Monday, March 19, 2001

Are voters as stupid as the pols think?

"The death penalty, supported by a majority of the voters in 1982, was reversed by the courts and has been repeatedly rejected by the Legislature. The voters, in 1986, rejected a mandatory seat belt law initiative. The Legislature passed it again, even over the objections of then Gov. William Weld.

"The fact is that the ballot question process does not end on Election Day.... the General Court may amend or repeal a law approved by the people."

Ballot question expensive, misguided
by (Sen.) Marian Walsh and (Rep.) Daniel Keenan
The Boston Herald - Sun., Mar. 18, 2001
(full column below)

The handwriting is on the wall; we are being conditioned for the final treachery. "We've thumbed our noses at the voters in the past, and have gotten away with it. We can get away with it again," the Beacon Hill pols are encouraging their colleagues and warning those others of us who are paying attention.

For you who may have thought it was only the so-called Clean Elections Law that is at risk in this latest display of political arrogance, think again. Every new law enacted by voter initiative or bad law put on the ballot and repealed by the voters is up for grabs if we silently acquiesce to this show of legislative contempt.

What Sen. Walsh and Rep. Keenan are telling us is, first they came for the capital punishment initiative, and they got away with it. Then the came for the mandatory seat belt law repeal, and got away with that too, they crow.

If they now get away with ignoring or gutting the Clean Elections Law (which got 67 percent of the actual vote, despite CLT's opposition to it) and we say nothing, how long will it take before they come for our tax rollback. How long can the initiative and referendum process itself survive as meaningful, and who will be left with a means to speak out?

Chip Ford

The Boston Herald
Letters to the Editor
Submitted: Sunday, March 18, 2001

Dear Editor:

Opening his column "Clean Elections mess: Legislators making hash of popular will" (Boston Herald, Sun., Mar. 18), Jeff Katz quoted state Sen. Marian Walsh: "I don't think that most voters understood they were voting for taxpayer-funded campaigns."

That was Question 2 on the 1998 ballot. Did those same voters abruptly lose their intelligence immediately after voting for Question 1 (by virtually the same vote margin), which granted a constitutional amendment that provides legislators with constitutionally-shielded automatic pay raises?

CLT opposed both, but we oppose even more this tidal wave of legislative arrogance. The people have spoken. Either the Beacon Hill pols -- our alleged "representatives" -- will listen, or they'll demonstrate that voters were wrong not on Question 2, but on Question 1.

QUESTION 1 60% 28% 12%
QUESTION 2 58% 30% 12%

Chip Ford --
Director of Operations
Citizens for Limited Taxation
Peabody - (781) 631-6842

The Boston Herald
Sunday March 18, 2001

Clean Elections mess: Legislators making hash of popular will
by Jeff Katz

"I don't think that most voters understood they were voting for taxpayer-funded campaigns."
- Sen. Marian Walsh

"The new law creates a voluntary system allowing candidates for state office who agree to campaign spending limits and $100 contribution limits to receive a set amount of public funds for their campaigns, starting with the 2002 election"

That's the first line of the 1998 "clean elections" ballot question approved by Massachusetts voters by a margin of 58 percent to 30 percent.

In a democracy, it is generally a bad idea for a legislator to question the intent, or intelligence, of her constituents when they vote overwhelmingly for something. Unfortunately, Massachusetts is not a democracy.

On the same ballot where voters soundly endorsed election reform, the need for reform was clear. Walsh (D-W. Roxbury), like 24 of her 39 Senate colleagues, ran unopposed on the ballot. Of the 160 candidates running for election to the House, 93 were unopposed.

I can't speak for "most voters," but on Election Day in 1998, I knew exactly, precisely and clearly that I was voting for taxpayer-funded elections in Massachusetts. Not only did I know what I was voting for, I cast my vote with the rock-solid and passionate belief that taxpayer-funded campaign finance reform is the single most important issue facing the citizens of Massachusetts. Like millions of Americans, I see how the corrosive impact of money has distorted our political system.

Any other issue I care about, from child welfare to the environment to taxes, is warped by two undeniable facts of the current system: First, candidates for office are required to solicit large sums of money. Second, people give money to candidates in order to gain influence. These facts shape who the candidate knows, who the candidate listens to and, in a very real sense, who the candidate serves.

The Clean Elections Law is a clearly worded and unambiguous effort to reform elections in Massachusetts. The law provides public funding to candidates who agree to abide by strict fund-raising and spending limits. Even if candidates choose not to accept public funding and raise more than the limit, they get no advantage. Every dollar they spend over the limit is matched by the public fund and given to their opponent. If a candidate is unopposed, they receive only half the amount of public funds and can spend only half the money on their campaign.

The Clean Elections Law is an effective tool for creating an even playing field for anyone running for public office. And that is precisely why most members of the House and Senate in Massachusetts detest it.

Ever since the Clean Elections Law passed, legislators in Massachusetts have been almost comical in their efforts to twist the legislation to their advantage. They floated the idea of limiting the Clean Elections Law to statewide offices, thus exempting themselves. They talked about limiting the period covered by the law, so that incumbents could raise hordes of cash well in advance of the election and, after stacking the deck in their favor, agree to the same fund-raising "limits" as their less well-heeled challengers. If you want to see how running unopposed causes legislators tune out his or her constituents, look no further than the Clean Elections Law. Many legislators haven't faced an Election Day opponent in years.

But now the issue is coming to a head. For the purposes of the Clean Election Law, the election cycle for the 2002 election starts March 31. If the opponents of clean elections are going to scuttle the new law, they must act quickly. With a tin ear to the will of the people, sweat forming on their brows, eyes shifting desperately in fear, opponents of the Clean Elections Law are searching for any way to kill the new law. Anything is possible. Only the vigilance of a free press and the voice of an alarmed public can prevent the Legislature from destroying the Clean Elections Law.

Apparently, some of our elected representatives now feel that we didn't really mean it when we voted 2-to-1 in favor of publicly funded clean elections. Perhaps it is time for us to remind them.

Jeff Katz is a fellow at the Malcom Weiner Center for Social Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

The Boston Herald
Sunday, March 18, 2001

Ballot question expensive, misguided 
by Marian Walsh and Daniel Keenan

Ballot questions have had a rocky road in Massachusetts. The death penalty, supported by a majority of the voters in 1982, was reversed by the courts and has been repeatedly rejected by the Legislature. The voters, in 1986, rejected a mandatory seat belt law initiative. The Legislature passed it again, even over the objections of then Gov. William Weld.

The fact is that the ballot question process does not end on Election Day. This issue was debated and settled at the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1917-1918. That Constitutional Convention exempted the judiciary and appropriations from any ballot initiative. It also established that the General Court may amend or repeal a law approved by the people.

Our Constitution provides a check and balance to "popular" ideas that, if implemented, would ill serve the people.

In this instance, in 1998, 58.4 percent of the voters approved ballot Question 2. Among other things, this question authorizes a public subsidy of state political campaigns. This ballot question, currently before the Legislature, requires a public appropriation of tens of millions of dollars for implementation, with no end in sight. Even the strongest supporters of this ballot initiative agree that it begs for clarification, regulation and immunization from fraud and abuse.

In addition, proponents of this public subsidy of political campaigns have not met their burden of proof: a) demonstrating the problem, and b) showing that this ballot question is the answer.

Massachusetts campaign finance laws are among the strongest in the nation. Corporations are totally banned from contributing to political candidates. Lobbyists are limited to $200 in each calendar year. Political Action Committees are frozen at $500 and the total from PACs is limited to $18,500 for a senator and $7,500 for a representative per year. Individuals may donate no more than $500 annually.

These restrictions, and many more, are enforced and monitored by a state-funded agency. Regular reports are filed during the year and signed by candidates under the pains and penalties of perjury.

None of these contribution restrictions apply to ballot initiatives or to candidates for federal office. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is beating the drum to limit corporate bankrolling and soft money windfalls at the federal level. McCain opposes the public financing of political campaigns. He has the support of most Americans, including many of us in the Legislature.

According to public records, ballot question donors are invariably corporate or special interests. This was true for backers of Question 2 in 1998. As a matter of fact, 47 individuals provided 84 percent of the $1,011,068 raised by the dominant committee promoting this ballot question. The special interest and out-of-state money that paid for this ballot question has been one of the best-kept secrets in Massachusetts.

Lack of legislative turnover is a chronic claim from supporters of the ballot initiative. However, the facts don't support their concern. Only 42 of the current 160 House members were serving there in 1990. In the Senate, only 9 of the 40 members were there in 1990. Both chambers expect to lose several more members before the next election cycle.

Public subsidy of state political campaigns is not a substitute for campaign reform. More importantly, it is not reform in the areas where reform is so desperately needed -- at the federal level. The current campaign finance laws in Massachusetts serve as a model around the country. The federal government should adopt Massachusetts' campaign finance laws, just as it did our state constitution.

It has been our observation and inspiration that legislators have the courage of their convictions and each member will respond to this civic debate honorably. Respect for diverse and differing points of view, and a legislative resolution as provided for in our state constitution, are what is now needed and what will occur.

Sen. Marian Walsh (D) is from West Roxbury. Rep. Daniel Keenan (D) lives in Blandford.

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