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Dirty business

The House’s arrogant vote against Clean Elections must be punished

IN A GROTESQUE manipulation of the democratic process, state representatives voted Tuesday not to fund the Clean Elections Law in the House budget. Instead, the measure will be paid for via an income-tax checkoff plan. The move is a thinly disguised attempt to gut the innovative campaign-reform measure, which was passed by ballot referendum in 1998 by a 2-1 margin.

Every voter — even those who didn’t say yes to the ballot initiative — should be outraged by Tuesday’s House vote. It was an exercise in legislative nullification. Nothing more, nothing less. The Clean Elections Law was a popular attempt to improve the nuts-and-bolts workings of our government. And unlike votes of conscience on deeply held moral beliefs about capital punishment, abortion, or gay rights, the vote against funding the law was a vote in favor of puny legislative self-interest. Let’s be clear: the state legislature has the legal right to amend or even repeal ballot initiatives passed by voters. And advocates for the Clean Elections Law have been more than willing to sit down with House leadership to negotiate a law that will address the concerns of incumbent representatives. But our elected leadership has refused to make a good-faith effort — or even the appearance of one — to improve the law. And this is a disgrace. Every representative who lined up against Clean Elections should be voted out of office.

House Speaker Tom Finneran’s ongoing jihad against the law — and make no mistake, House opposition begins and ends with our imperious Speaker — has consisted of a months-long series of insults and injuries to every voter in the Commonwealth. First, there was the public disinformation campaign waged by Finneran and his lieutenants during which they told anyone who would listen that voters didn’t understand what they had approved when they passed the measure. More recently, we were subjected to the spectacle of Representative Gale Candaras (D-Wilbraham), a member of Finneran’s leadership team, pushing an amendment that would have diverted the $22.4 million already set aside for Clean Elections to fund a bill mandating that human-services workers get paid a living wage. The deeply cynical maneuver showed the contempt in which the political class holds the working class.

And now this — a full House vote to fund the Clean Elections Law in such a way that the law’s destruction is all but assured. The House capped Clean Elections spending for the upcoming election at $32 million. This will be funded with the $22.4 million already set aside, as well as two voluntary checkoffs on state income-tax forms. One is already in place: a $1 contribution that doesn’t affect the amount of tax owed and raises just $400,000 to $450,000 per year. The other will be included on next year’s return and will allow voters to contribute a sum of up to $100 toward public funding of elections. The money will be tacked on to the amount of tax owed by the filer. (A similar measure was in place as recently as 1995 to partially finance the governor’s race; only one to two percent of all taxpayers contributed funds, and the checkoff never raised more than $50,000.) Clean Elections advocates estimate that it will cost between $30 million and $40 million to fully fund the law. There’s no way that kind of money will be raised by a tax-form checkoff slated to fund the 2002 election cycle.

Characteristic of the ugly opposition was an outburst in the House chamber on Tuesday by Representative Marie Parente (D-Milford), broadcast on Wednesday morning on WBUR Radio (90.9 FM). Parente, saying she had recently met with Clean Elections supporters, characterized them as long-haired losers with pierced noses, eyebrows, and tongues (“And that was just the men!” she proclaimed), whose very presence nearly caused her to “have a stroke.”

The only bright moment during Tuesday’s massacre came when Governor Jane Swift vowed to veto any measure that failed to fully fund the reform law.

It’s interesting to consider the fate of another ballot initiative approved by the voters in 1998: a law prohibiting the state legislature from raising its base pay. Passed by 69 percent of the electorate, the law mandates that legislative pay raises or decreases be linked to the same percentage rise or fall in the state’s median income. You don’t see Finneran rushing to put a checkoff box on state tax forms funding legislative pay raises in this manner. Nor do you see a push to leave funding for education reform, Big Dig overruns, construction of the South Boston convention center, or a new Red Sox ballpark to the April 15 whims of stressed-out taxpayers.

There’s simply no question that the ability — or inability — to raise campaign funds plays a direct role in whether or not a candidate gets elected to the Massachusetts legislature. In “Barriers to Entry,” a report by the Massachusetts Money and Politics Project released April 27, the spending advantages of incumbents are clearly documented. Consider the following:

• State reps who were re-elected without opposition during the last election cycle had, on average, 54 percent more money in their campaign accounts than representatives who faced challengers. State senators who didn’t face opposition had accounts 67 percent larger than those who did.

• In House races incumbents outspent challengers by 65 percent (the average spread was $40,804 to $25,071). In Senate races the disparity was much greater, with incumbents outspending their challengers by a 2-1 margin ($121,531 to $53,015). Indeed, nine out of 10 times, the candidate with a “significant spending advantage” prevailed.

• House challengers who spent less than $25,000 simply weren’t competitive.

A fully funded Clean Elections war chest would ensure that any candidate for statewide office or the state legislature who could raise a set number of small donations from registered voters would be given enough funding to mount a competitive run for office. Races in which Clean Elections candidates face opponents operating outside the law would see additional funds — up to the amount spent by the non-participating candidate — given to anyone operating within the reform guidelines. It’s not a perfect system. But it would go a long way toward reinvigorating an electoral system that saw 71 percent of state legislators run unopposed in 2000.

By now, it’s clear: the only way to get Beacon Hill to implement the law is to vote our elected representatives out of office. The list below tells you who needs to go.

In the meantime, you can contact Governor Swift (call 617-727-6250 or email and tell her that you support her pledge to veto the House bill. You can also contact your state senator and Senate president Tom Birmingham (call 617-722-1500 or email and let them know you want full funding for the Clean Elections Law when the Senate takes up the measure. Visit for contact information for your state senator.

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Roster of shame

The following state representatives from Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville voted to underfund the Clean Elections Law. (Both of Brookline’s state reps voted against the amendment.) The number next to the legislators’ names is the percentage by which their district approved the 1998 law.


Sal DiMasi (71)

David Donnelly (65)

Tom Finneran (70)

Kevin Fitzgerald (75)

Brian Golden (72)

John Hart (61)

Kevin Honan (72)

Liz Malia (78)

Gene O’Flaherty (66)

Shirley Owens-Hicks (72)

Anthony Petruccelli (64)

Angelo Scaccia (66)

Marie St. Fleur (74)

Martin Walsh (66)


Tim Toomey (72)


Vincent Ciampa (70)

For the complete roll call click here:

Issue Date: May 3-10, 2001

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