You Probably Voted for Clean Elections

Yes, you probably did vote for the so-called Clean Elections in Massachusetts. The initiative was on the ballot, and passed overwhelmingly.

It is, alas, overwhelmingly, flawed. Even the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) can't figure out how to enforce or interpret parts of the law. They're not even sure of how much the plan will cost, or how they'll handle the switch to electronic filing or the expected avalanche of paperwork.

Originally intended to level the playing field between incumbents and challengers by providing state funds to candidates who agree to limit spending, and to get more candidates to run, supporters claimed that it would make lawmakers, and other statewide office holders, pay more attention to the job and spend less time fundraising.

Right now, candidates for the House of Representative can raise contributions-maximum of $500 from one person, $200 from lobbyists. The Clean Elections law lowers that to $100 from anyone, with a maximum of $6,000 in any two year election cycle. That's a total of $6,000, not $6,000 each year.

And, $1,000 of that has to be from 200 people, in your district, who sign a pledge form and give you $5 between January 1, 2002, and May 28,2002. The money cannot come from anyone who has already given you $100, and cannot make your total funds exceed the $6,000 limit. You cannot raise these donations at, say, a spaghetti supper, because, of course, you cannot give anyone anything of value for the signature and money.

Participating, of course, is voluntary. However, if a candidate raises his, or her, own campaign funds, and spends what they want, their opponents will get more of your tax dollars to fund their race. Dollar for dollar match to what the non-participating candidate spends.

So, how much of your tax money will go to the candidates. On average, for a House race, $30,000. That's $18,000 for a primary, and $12,000 for the general election. For every single candidate. But, it could be more.

More, for example, if a nonparticipating primary candidate spends more than $18,000 each and every participant will get up to $36,000 in public funds.

Think about it. If I run, as a nonparticipant, and spend $36,000, of my own money or money raised from my supporters, each and every one of my opponents in the primary-and there could be numerous candidates-would get $36,000 in state money.

And, in the general election, my opponents would each get up to $24,000 in public funds. Add that to the primary funds and the take is $60,000.

Erstwhile opponents can spend it all on the election. Incumbents must count all office expenses, constituent services, donations and phone calls, letterheads and business cards, just to name a few costs that will accumulate toward the spending limits. As one of my colleagues said last week, during a meeting explaining the new Clean Election law, "The Little Leagues of Massachusetts are in for a bad surprise."

Massachusetts legislators use campaign accounts-money they raise from supporters-to pay for these expenses now. In fact, statistics released last month show that the average spending for House members includes $2,463 spent on fundraising, $2,155 for gifts and sponsorships, $1,370 for supplies and postage, $621 for meals and hospitality, $587 for travel, $570 for phones.

Back to, and I dislike the term, Clean Elections.

The Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) guesses that there could be four candidates for each of 200 House and Senate races. So the cost is high, very high. In the primary, maybe four Democrats, four Republicans, maybe more. Plus Independents, maybe even Libertarians. In the general, another two, or four. You do the math.

Even if a candidate runs unopposed, they'll get a total of $18,000 in state funds for the primary and the general elections combined.

Your tax dollars at work, folks.

But, wait, there's more. Candidates for Governor would get $1.5-million for a primary and $1.05 for a general election; Lt. Governor, $383,000 and $255,000; Attorney General and Treasurer, each $360,000 and $240,000; Secretary of State and Auditor, $120,000 and $80,000. Governors Councilors, $19,000 and $13,000. Senators, $43,000 and $29,000.

And, those amounts could be adjusted upwards, after 2002, to meet inflation.

Did I tell you that you get the first $7,500 five days after you raise the five bucks from each of your 200 friends? Take the money, hire a relative to run the campaign. Take a cruise or two. Then, don't run. Or, just pocket the cash.

Hey, jump on board. Free money to all who enter in. Big bucks. Lack of accountability. Fringe candidates. Unlimited spending.

Something has to change.

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