Enact Clean Elections Law

In order for campaign finance reform to materialize it will take much more than the political back-and-forth which has thus far characterized the issue. In Massachusetts it has taken four years of complicated legal proceedings and an order from the Supreme Judicial Court. And now, with gubernatorial elections looming, the law might finally take action.

In November 1998, Massachusetts voters approved the Clean Elections Act, which gives public money to candidates who limit private fund raising to $100 per source, totaling no more than $450,000. It was scheduled to take effect Nov. 11, 1998, but lawmakers’ reluctance to finance the law prevented its implementation. Finally, a lawsuit brought by one of the gubernatorial candidates has revived the long-dormant issue and the Supreme Judicial Court has ordered the state legislature to fund the law or repeal it.

Opponents argue the recession and state budget shortfall make finding the necessary $17 million impossible, but with heightened campaign finance concern in the wake of Enron’s collapse, overwhelming public support for the law has been expressed. This has caused several other states to consider using the Clean Election Law.

Massachusetts lawmakers need to respect the obvious wishes of their voters, who were so in favor of the law there was talk of postponing the election until the issue was resolved. The people have repeatedly reaffirmed their desire to see this law enacted and, after four years of dodging legal obligations, the state legislature cannot hide behind the current recession and budget shortfall. They have had ample time to appropriate the necessary funding but have chosen not to do so.

In the text of the law, the commonwealth of Massachusetts states that current campaign finance practices undermine democracy, increase perception of corruption and diminish citizens’ rights of equal and meaningful participation in elections. With public funding, candidates can devote to constituents time formerly used for fund raising. The law also requires that participants receive donations only from those within the voting district, and it holds candidates responsible for documenting the source and amount of all donations. Almost all the gubernatorial candidates support the Clean Elections Law, and several are even counting on the money for their campaigns. The people have spoken, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has spoken, and it is now time for the state legislature to listen.

National attention is focused on this case as the outcome will set precedence for future campaign finance reform. Currently three other states have this law, but only Arizona has cut through the legal hassle. Arizona successfully put the plan into action for the 2000 elections. There are no more excuses for the state legislature in Massachusetts. The Clean Elections Law must be enacted.