Campaign finance bill partisan power grab

It’s wrong to lock out Republicans

THE SOLE PURPOSE for any campaign finance law is to hold politicians accountable for any possible corruption. To do so, campaign finance law should always be fair and clear. Fair for all involved, be it differing political parties or those on the opposite side of the negotiating table (such as unions and employers). Clear so both politicians and everyday citizens can follow the law and not run afoul.

Yet on Wednesday, the House overwhelming voted in favor of H.4072, a bill that started out as an effort to increase transparency in campaign finance reporting — but which at the last minute was amended to significantly change how the director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance is appointed. That change was clearly unfair.

I know the original bill was sold to the public as modernizing legislation to improving transparency because I was one of the few people who attended the legislative committee hearing. Everyone offering testimony on the bill only addressed the reporting requirements. No one testified about the change to how the director would be appointed, and for good reason: it had not yet been included in the bill. No one at the hearing mentioned or asked for the change. No lawmaker on the committee suggested it. In fact, it would not publicly appear in the bill until just before the full House vote.

The committee added the language to the bill only after the hearing, drastically changing its scope. It turned a piece of consensus driven legislation into a partisan power grab. Had the public known this before the hearing, I am sure good government advocates would have made a point to offer testimony against the bill.

This newly fabricated bill would replace a fair system for selecting the director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance that has been in place since 1973. Under our current system, the director is selected by a bipartisan committee comprised of the chair of the Republican Party, chair of the Democratic Party, and appointees of both the secretary of state and the governor. A unanimous vote is required for appointment, guaranteeing the selection of an acceptable consensus candidate. If a candidate cannot be selected, the secretary of state can appoint an interim director. The party chairs are accountable to their respective political party committees. That ensures a fair representation for both major parties and direct accountability. Indeed, the current director has been appointed through this unanimous consensus approach for six consecutive terms.

In practice, the new bill concentrates the power to select the director with the majority party.  This is because selection of the director will no longer require a unanimous decision, but will instead require only a four-fifths vote. Nor will the selection committee be guaranteed — as is the case currently — to include a representative of the primary minority party.

Under the new proposal, the selection committee would include the secretary of state, attorney general, and governor, and they would then pick the two other commissioners.  Yet the offices of secretary of state and attorney general have been occupied by Democrats since 1949 and 1969, respectively, and under the bill would have the power to consistently outvote the governor on all matters. These voting thresholds are directly designed to marginalize the position of the only office Republicans have won in recent years—the governorship. Nor does the new proposal ensure that the minority party is chosen for either of the two other commission positions. It simply states that no more than three commissioners can be from the same party.

It’s wrong to lock out Republicans from the process and it would be wrong if Republicans were locking out Democrats. Neither would reflect the fairness that campaign finance law must represent.

If H.4072 becomes law, the independence of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance should rightly be called into question.  This week, the majority party in the House voted to abolish a bipartisan commission that has operated without issue on principles of unanimity for over 45 years, and they did it in their typical opaque fashion. No public notice. No public hearings. Very little time for lawmakers to review. They simply hoped to ram it through without anyone noticing.  I think the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

It’s unfortunate for the hardworking employees of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. They are trying to do a job as best they can but the powerful politicians at the Statehouse are trying to politicize their agency. The next director of the agency doesn’t deserve to be sworn into office under this cloud.

Meet the Author

Paul D. Craney

Board Member & Spokesman, Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance
There is still time to correct the misguided efforts of the House this week and ensure that the nonpartisan nature of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance is protected. Hopefully the Senate will not follow in the House’s footsteps and use campaign finance as a weapon to silence opposing views.

Paul Diego Craney is the spokesperson for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance.