The High Cost of Running

Yes, the voters have voted, overwhelmingly, for campaign finance reform. Remember Question 2 on the ballot last November?

Campaign finance reform is needed, desperately, on the national level, where special interest money has a major impact. But, once again, I repeat,this recent demand in Massachusetts was not well planned and even its backers admit some changes are necessary.

Campaigns do, indeed, cost too much. Statistics released just this week show that the minimum cost of a campaign for a seat in the Massachusetts House reached $28,000 last year. Minimum cost. Minimum. More than double the $12,000 needed two years earlier. Cost of a Senate run remained at $65,000.

Now, the campaign reform plan on the ballot last year, for example, would cap expenditures for a House race at $30,000, paid for with your tax dollars. And, if 20 people decide to run for a House seat in any one district, they'd ALL get the bulk of their expenses paid. Again, by your tax dollars.

Any candidate. An opportunity for fraud, abuse and waste. And more mountains of paperwork.

To be eligible, every candidate would have to raise at least $5 from 200 donors, and each donor has to sign a paper saying they want their money backed up with state funds. Candidates would be limited to a maximum contribution of $100 from any one support during the two years preceding the election. That's $50 a year.

And, our limits now, in Massachusetts, are already low. $500 a year from any one contributor, and a maximum of $200 from a lobbyist. No corporate donations at all.

There's a glitch, however. It's estimated that the election reform voted in Massachusetts will cost a minimum of $14-million. The legislature hasn't put any money into the fund to pay for the 2000 races.

Commonwealth Magazine recently asked ten people, including me, to write essays on campaign reform. If you want to read the opinions, you can buy the magazine (it's the winter edition) or go to www.massinc.org.

Basically, here's what I wrote:

So, I shouldn't spend as much time as I do raising money for my next campaign? Hey, I have one big fund-raiser a year, and a small mailing. That's it. And, it pays the bills.

Then, why, can you tell me, should we lower the contribution limits? Won't that cause me to spend twice as much time raising money?

My first House race, 1994, cost about $22,000 for primary and general. I was politically naive. Over 50 and in my first political race, I couldn't believe it could cost that much. But I raised every dollar, thanks to broad support in the district I would represent. And, frankly, I can't see spending public money for candidates without that kind of broad support.

Now, if I'm going to get $24,000 in public funds and can spend $6,000 that I raise (the amount set for State Rep races) I can spend even more than I did in 1994. But, what if I don't need it? And how about the representative in Boston, where it can cost $175,000 to run on Beacon Hill. That $30,000 won't go far.

There are other questions. How many people get the money, how many do we fund, how far will $14-million go?

Logic be damned. The voters have spoken. Or, voted. So let's go along with the plan, even fund it. And limit ourselves to the $30,000 amount.

OOPS. That 30-grand has to include all of our expenses--like fax machines, phone bills, postage for mailing information to our constituents. Christmas cards. Donations.Sponsorship of Little League teams. Conferences and conventions. Dinner tickets for events that we have to attend.

No, let's just let the candidates raise the money from the people who believe in them. And not take the money out of your tax dollars.

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