The Boston Globe
Friday, November 12, 1999
Beacon Hill takes on initiatives
Critics: Amendments usurp will of people
By Michael Rezendes
The Legislature's moves this week to radically change popular voter
initiatives that ban animal traps and call for campaign finance reform have liberals and
conservatives alike charging that Beacon Hill leaders have ignored the will of the people.
"They're sacred," said
anti-tax activist Barbara Anderson, referring to laws passed directly by voters. "And
the only proper way for the Legislature to change them is either by working with the
people who put them on the ballot or by sending the issue back to the voters."
The flaps over the campaign finance reform law and ban on animal
traps, both of which were amended by the Legislature Wednesday, reignited a fiery debate
about state government: are citizen initiatives a sacred expression of the voters or an
affront to our system of representative democracy?
For Anderson, who spearheaded the successful 1980 voter drive to cut
property taxes, and many other activists, ballot initiatives are a pure expression of the
voters that should never be substantially changed by elected officials.
But others see the citizen initiative as a dangerous tool that can
tap into the emotion of the moment, resulting in ill-considered laws, and they say that
contentious public policy questions are best resolved by an informed Legislature.
"I don't believe that what is popular is necessarily
right," said George Bachrach, a former state senator and unsuccessful congressional
candidate. "The danger you face with the initiative process is a question that sounds
easy - let's end all taxes, or let's return all the tolls - but isn't really in the public
In either case, those who see ballot questions as a legitimate way
for voters to make or repeal laws say the Legislature's attack on the animal trap and
campaign reform initiatives comes at a time when citizens trying to place questions on the
ballot are facing ever-higher hurdles.
A July decision by the state's Supreme Judicial Court saying that
stray pen marks could invalidate entire pages of voter signatures has activists scrambling
to gather more than the 57,100 signatures required to get questions on the 2000 ballot.
"If the high court and leaders on Beacon Hill had conspired to
eliminate the public's constitutional right to speak through the ballot they couldn't have
done a more thorough job," said Jim Braude, a liberal Cambridge city councilor-elect.
Chip Ford, of the conservative Citizens
for Limited Taxation, which is working with Governor Paul Cellucci to place an income-tax
rollback on the 2000 ballot, also believes the confluence of the SJC decision and the
recent actions of the state Legislature have imperiled the citizen initiative process.
"It's as if all these people got
together and said there's just too much democracy around here," Ford said. "The
entire initiative process is under threat from every direction."
Ford is no stranger to attempts by the Legislature to undermine or
repeal laws created through the ballot.
In 1986, he ran the successful "Freedom First" campaign to
overturn the state's first mandatory seat belt law. Eight years later, when the
Legislature passed another law requiring the use of seat belts, Ford's troops fanned out
across the state to gather signatures for another repeal, and lost when the issue was
placed before the voters.
"If that's the will of the people,
so be it," Ford said. "But I think the Legislature should have put the question
on the ballot and not made us go out and collect all those signatures again."
House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, who has shown a willingness to take
unpopular stands, said he is skeptical of the initiative process because ballot summaries
presented to voters may not present a complete picture, and because voters are never asked
to consider the total cost of the several questions that might be on the ballot.
For instance, he said the campaign finance law approved by voters
last year could cost up to $100 million over four years, while questions on taxes and
tolls proposed for the 2000 ballot could throw the state's budget out of balance.
"A voter might be intrigued by any one question but it takes a
legislator who's cognizant of all the other factors in state government to evaluate it in
context," Finneran said.
Not every advocate of the initiative process believes the Legislature
should keep its hands off laws created through the ballot.
Joan Dempsey, the advocacy director for the Massachusetts Society for
the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said that after nearly three years on the books, the
time has arrived for the Legislature to revise the animal trap law approved by voters in
But Dempsey also believes legislators have an obligation to work with
proponents of the law and that the bill approved Wednesday by the House -- which allows
the use of a "conibear" body trap for beaver and muskrat -- will come back to
haunt the Legislature if it's ultimately approved by the Senate and the governor.
"As soon as somebody's dog gets caught in a conibear they're
going to remember why people voted to ban trapping," Dempsey said.
And when it comes to the Legislature's effort to revamp the new
campaign finance reform law, even those who are wary of the initiative process say the
Legislature has an obligation to acknowledge the voters' growing distaste with the role of
special interest money in political campaigns.
"In this case the ballot initiative was not a first resort, it
was a last resort," said Bachrach.
Some proponents of the initiative process say the Legislature applies
a double standard to laws approved by ballot -- treating those to their liking with
reverence while labeling others the product of an emotional or uninformed electorate.
The Boston Herald
Friday, November 12, 1999
Pickpocketing pols shouldn't get funds
A Boston Herald editorial
First the voters of Massachusetts -- who must have been having a
collective delusion back in 1998 -- thought they could buy the honesty of their
politicians. The price wouldn't be cheap, of course. It was estimated at the time that the
public financing of elections would cost anywhere from $20 million to $56 million for each
The just-passed state budget includes a $10 million down payment on
that public financing scheme. Ah, but this system isn't looking as attractive as it once
did to members of the Massachusetts Legislature. While they would dearly like to get their
greedy little hands on taxpayers' money to pay for their political campaigns, they don't
want to give up those really useful slush funds of campaign cash that are so handy between
Most House and Senate races don't cost a lot. Few legislators need to
buy radio or TV time. Some hire consultants. But most make do with bumper stickers,
buttons and ads in the local papers. Under the new public financing law, candidates who
agree to limit their spending to $30,000 will get the taxpayers to pick up $24,000 of
Most incumbents, however, have grown accustomed to using their
campaign accounts between elections for certain extras -- tickets to dinners and other
events, flowers for constituents, meals and travel. Anything loosely connected to
enhancing the pol's image would pass muster.
The public financing law doesn't require anyone to take public money.
It just says, if you take public money, you must limit expenditures. It places additional
restrictions on other money raised. But now legislators want it both ways. They want
taxpayers dollars and no restrictions on raising or spending other campaign contributions
until six months before an election.
This is quite possibly the most dishonest, disingenuous act ever
perpetrated on Beacon Hill -- especially in the name of "Clean Elections."
A gubernatorial veto ought to be a no-brainer. But beyond that, it's
time voters were given another opportunity to rethink public financing of elections.
Taxpayers have better things to do with their money than finance this gang of pickpockets.