A Ballot Committee of Citizens for Limited Taxation


The Boston Globe
Wednesday, October 18, 2000


Big money plays biggest role in state's referendum politics
By Brian C. Mooney
Globe Columnist

Forget the rhetoric of the campaign around Question 4, Governor Paul Cellucci's initiative petition to slash the state income tax to 5 percent. The main combatants are not ordinary taxpayers seeking relief or needy souls fighting for services.

Oh, there are some little people who've kicked in a few bucks on either side. But the real players are big business and big labor, who've bought the advertising now saturating the airwaves. In fact, the pattern persists for other questions on the Nov. 7 ballot. Referendum politics were conceived as an instrument of power for those shut out by the establishment. Instead, it's become mostly the domain of special interests, who, by state law, can give unlimited amounts toward a ballot initiative.

Consider these facts culled from campaign finance filings of opposing factions in the fight to cut the tax rate from its current 5.85 percent over three years at an annual cost of $1.04 billion, fully implemented, according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a noncombatant in the Question 4 campaign.

Through Oct. 1, the Tax Rollback Committee, Cellucci's vehicle, had received 81 contributions totalling $657,000. That's $8,111 per check. The highest rollers are Hopkinton's EMC Corp. ($100,000, plus $51,000 from chairman Richard Egan); Goodrich Properties of Boston, $100,000; and John Hancock and Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance companies, $50,000 each.

The rollback advocates also received $65,000 from a double-duty committee funded primarily by the Massachusetts High-Technology Council. The "Yes on 4, No on 5" committee backs the tax rollback but opposes Question 5, which would require the state to adopt universal health care.

Question 4's opponent, the Campaign for Massachusetts' Future, raised $972,881 (it's also fighting Question 6, a proposed rebate of turnpike tolls and auto excise taxes that would cost $623 million). At least $900,000 of that amount came from labor unions, mostly public employee unions. Heading the list are the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers, $205,000; the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, $200,000; Service Employees International Union Local 509, $150,000; and the Boston Teachers Union, $105,000. The Massachusetts Teachers Association, usually the deepest pocket in battles against tax cuts, contributed $75,000 through Sept. 30, but is expected to up its financial commitment significantly in the campaign's final weeks.

Both sides have some popular support. The "A Promise to Keep: 5%" committee, associated with Citizens for Limited Taxation, raised $43,000 in small-dollar donations. Besides the big-bucks unionists, the rollback opponents logged nearly 800 small-dollar donations, including a $50 check from Michael S. Dukakis, governor during the fiscal crisis and tax hikes of 1989-90. ...

So, as you watch or listen to the ads, remember who paid for them and why. Usually, it's big money, not little people.

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