DeLeo defends House campaign finance vote

Disheartened to see bipartisanship weaponized

THIS WEEK THE HOUSE of Representatives engrossed H.4067, An Act Relative to Campaign Finance, which updates the campaign finance law with specific emphasis on increasing transparency in elections by requiring more frequent reporting by House and Senate members.

This legislation also included a provision changing the way in which the director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance is appointed. Currently, if there is a vacancy in the office of the director, the law requires the appointment of a commission to appoint the director. The current law requires that the commission be comprised of the Secretary of State (who is also required to serve as chair), the chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, the chair of the Massachusetts Republican Party, and the dean of a law school appointed by the governor. Current law also requires that the commission’s vote to appoint a director be unanimous.

House 4067 changes the process by which the OCPF director is appointed. House 4067 requires that:

  1. Upon a vacancy in the office of the director, a commission to appoint a director be formed. The commission is to be comprised of the governor, the attorney general, the secretary of state (who again is required to serve as chair) and two additional members appointed by a majority vote of the governor, the attorney general, the secretary of state – one of whom shall hold elected office at the county level and one of whom shall hold elected office at the municipal level.
  2. The vote to appoint a director shall be a 4/5.
  3. Not more than three commissioners may be from the same political party.

Vesting the chairs of the state’s two main political parties—two individuals who are accountable to no one—with authority to appoint an independent state official at a minimum politicizes the process and raises an appearance of a conflict of interest. The change to the appointment process engrossed by the House is designed to, and it will, depoliticize the selection of a new director in the event of a vacancy in the office. In fact, and contrary to the assertions of some, the bill engrossed by the House, in prohibiting more than three commissioners from the same political party, ensures that the appointment of a future director will be nonpartisan.

In terms of requiring unanimous consent for the appointment of a director, we know of no other state law requiring unanimous consent of a commission in order to appoint a state official. Additionally, as it relates to the composition of the commission, we know of no other state law that requires members of a specific political party be appointed to a state position.

In fact, the enabling act for the State Ethics Commission – itself a nonpartisan five member commission – requires three appointees of the governor, one appointee of the attorney general and one appointee of the secretary of state and permits the commission to appoint an executive director by a majority vote. And the Ethic’s Commission’s enabling act – identical to the legislation engrossed by the House yesterday – provides that not “more than three members be from the same political party.” We have not heard the same concerns about the Republican or Democratic Parties not having a voice in the selection of the director of the State Ethics Commission.

The executive director of the State Ethics Commission and the director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance are critically important regulatory positions. Neither the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party are guaranteed seats on the State Ethics Commission, which appoints an executive director, and nor should they be guaranteed seats on the commission that appoints the campaign finance director.

In the event of a vacancy in the office of the director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, the legislation engrossed by the House this week all but guarantees the bipartisan appointment of a new director. Any proposal to require a fixed number of representatives from any one political party to the commission risks creating a political quagmire like the one we see today at the Federal Election Commission. The Office of Campaign and Political Finance, like the State Ethics Commission, should be devoid of partisan politics and under no circumstances should seats on a state commission charged with appointing a state official with enforcement powers be specifically reserved for members of any political party.

The House proposal requires additional transparency in the campaign finance process and the nonpartisanship appointment of the director of Office of Campaign and Political Finance. It is difficult to understand how anyone – Republican or Democrat – would question these objectives.

Meet the Author

Lastly, I am proud of the House’s history of bipartisanship – something the governor has consistently touted – and I was disheartened to see the merits of bipartisanship weaponized for political points during the debate on Wednesday. I’m a Democrat, but as speaker of the House, my first responsibility is to pursue the best policy solutions that serve our great Commonwealth, not Democratic solutions, not Republican solutions, but the best solutions regardless of political party.

Robert DeLeo is the speaker of the Massachusetts House.