AIMING HIGH ON CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM:

Let's Aim High

“We the people” is a cornerstone of our American political identity. America is its people. Throughout our history, we have fought hard to build and preserve this unique government “of the people, for the people, by the people.”

The people of Massachusetts have lived for these ideals longer than just about anyone. We are the birthplace of the American Revolution and the struggle for the right to be governed by elected representatives. We have been leaders in this fight for centuries.

But we know that our democracy is not self-fulfilling. It takes us, all of us, to breathe life into it and protect it. We cannot take it for granted.

Our collective well-being depends on a strong, healthy and responsive democratic government. More than any other institution, government acts on behalf of all of us. Government is our instrument, not our enemy. It is the vehicle through which we work to empower, support and protect each other.

We need to aim high to ensure that our elections and government are open and responsive to all of us. We need to make it easier for regular people to impact elections and policy, and to participate equally in the political process, regardless of their income and resources.

We need strong campaign finance policies to ensure that our democracy fulfills its promise to each and every one of us, to the people.

Not Satisfied with the Status Quo

Unfortunately, the current system for funding elections falls far short of the ideal, both nationally and right here in Massachusetts.

Elections at all levels are increasingly expensive. Candidates are driven to extraordinary efforts to amass the resources necessary to win, spending too much time fundraising and not enough time engaging in meaningful dialogue with constituents. Incumbents have powerful incentives to build large war chests in their campaign accounts, often from wealthy donors who do business with the government, to deter challengers and cement their position[1]. It has even led Governor Baker to exploit loopholes in campaign finance rules to solicit and accept donations from wealthy donors of up to $43,900 each, well above the intended limits under state law. [2][3]

Even worse, the explosion of so-called “independent expenditures” in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 has obliterated the meaning and purpose of all contribution limits, including from corporations. Individuals and corporations can now make unlimited contributions to independent expenditure groups, grossly inflating the amount spent on elections[4]and ballot initiatives[5].



Despite significant reforms to Massachusetts disclosure laws as recently as 2014[6], it is still too easy to hide the true source of independent expenditure contributions and for “dark money” to seep into our elections. As a result of these reforms, independent expenditure groups must disclose their donors under certain circumstances, but unlike the disclosure requirements for candidates or political parties, these requirements can be manipulated. In particular, while corporations cannot donate to candidates or parties, they can donate unlimited sums to independent expenditure groups. And donors who want to remain anonymous can funnel money through front corporations, with only the corporate name disclosed, rather than the underlying donor[7].

These trends are deeply concerning because they result in wealthy, often undisclosed campaign donors having disproportionate access to and influence over candidates for office. Governor Baker has even explicitly offered big donors special access[8]. By leveraging the “Baker loophole” cited above to solicit $43,900 contributions, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars from undisclosed sources to gain control of state Republican committee seats[9], and raising millions of dollars for the losing charter school ballot question from undisclosed wealthy donors[10], Governor Baker has disproportionately indebted himself to wealthy donors who are likely to have more access to him and more influence over his decisions as Governor.

It is time for us to take bold action to tighten the rules and level the playing field in our elections.

Principles and Proposals

As Governor, I will work to curtail the influence of moneyed interests in politics and to increase disclosure requirements that will bolster transparency around how campaigns and outside groups raise and spend their funds. Our efforts will include:

Limiting the Impact of Citizens United and Bringing Dark Money into the Light:

  • Support the passage of a federal constitutional amendment that will expressly permit Congress and states to regulate campaign contributions and expenditures, including corporate contributions. To this end, I am proud to be one of the first candidates in the country to sign the American Promise pledge to use my office to advance this amendment.
  • Broaden the triggers for disclosing funders of independent expenditure groups to include advocacy and communication of all kinds, whether related to a specific candidate or to general political or policy issues, and to include outside spending on legal challenges to pending or enacted legislation.
  • Create new disclosure requirements for donors to independent expenditure groups, such that any entity contributing more than $1,000 to an independent expenditure group must publicly disclose each donation it has received above a certain threshold.
  • Expand the definition of “coordinated” spending to limit independent expenditures. For example, California law presumes that spending is coordinated with a campaign if an expenditure is made with the involvement of anyone who previously provided professional services to that candidate or committee within the 4-year election cycle. Maine has a similar law on its books.

Closing Loopholes for Raising and Spending Campaign Funds in Massachusetts:

  • Close the “Baker loophole” for circumventing state contribution limits by proposing state legislation modeled on existing federal law to prohibit state candidates from soliciting political donations for any entity in amounts greater than the limit on donations for such donations under state law. Charlie Baker’s “Massachusetts Victory Committee” arrangement with the state and national Republican parties is the only one of its kind in the country - it is a loophole he is exploiting to raise massive amounts from wealthy friends, and I will shut it down.
  • Clarify rules for political party use of federal campaign account funds in state races by supporting pending legislation to ensure that state contribution limits apply to state races.

Make Massachusetts Campaigns More Accountable to the Public

  • Enhance the state’s limited public financing system by increasing the voluntary contribution amount to the State Election Campaign Fund on annual tax returns, which has not been adjusted since it was set in 1994. Candidates who accept public financing must also agree to spending limits, but the fund currently generates only enough funding every four years for a limited number of candidates. A larger pool of public financing would make more money available to more candidates, reducing their need to fundraise from special interests and putting the brakes on runaway spending.
  • Strengthen the enforcement powers of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance by filing legislation to give that office the authority to issue fines. Our oversight agency needs all available tools to hold campaigns accountable.

Sources

1. “Baker eyes $30 million goal for re-election bid,” Jim O’Sullivan, Boston Globe, May 29, 2017.
2. “Fund-raising loophole fills Mas. GOP coffers,” Frank Phillips, Boston Globe, March 17, 2016.
3. “Baker needs to be transparent on shadowy dollars,” editorial, Boston Globe, March 26, 2016.
4. “Outside groups spent $20 million to influence last year’s Massachusetts elections,” Shira Schoenberg, Springfield Republican, March 27, 2015.
5. “Outside money flows for Mass. ballot items,” Frank Phillips, Boston Globe, October 13, 2016.
6. “Shining a Light: Success of the Massachusetts Disclosure Law,” Common Cause Massachusetts. June 23, 2016.
7. “Donors behind the charter push keep to the shadows,” Michael Levenson, Boston Globe, August 20, 2016.
8. “Top donors could gain more access to Baker, officials,” Jim O’Sullivan, Boston Globe, May 1, 2016.
9. “Baker taps wealthy donors in bid to shape Mass. GOP,” Frank Phillips, February 26, 2016.
10. “Wall Street firms make money from teachers’ pensions - and fund charter schools fight,” David Sirota et al., International Business Times, October 26, 2016.