Senators Asked to Come Clean on Clean Elections
On May 29, the Massachusetts Senate adopted a budget amendment that would repeal the state’s landmark campaign finance law – the Clean Elections Law. The spectacle of a group of incumbents wiping out a reform enacted by 1.1 million voters was disturbing. But to add insult to injury, the way in which the vote was taken amounted to a violation of fair treatment and the democratic process.
By killing Clean Elections through a budget amendment rather than legislation, the Senate avoided referring the proposal to a committee and avoided holding public hearings on the measure. It was a way to slam the door in the face of the many citizens who were well-prepared to defend the merits of the Clean Elections system.
The use of a voice vote (instead of a roll call) made it difficult or impossible for constituents to find out where their senators stood. And the Senate’s maneuver allowed the 160 members of the House to avoid casting any direct vote on the matter at all.
According to the Massachusetts constitution, the citizens of Massachusetts have the right to make laws by referendum process when the Legislature refuses to act. Over 6000 volunteers took time from their personal lives and stood on street corners collecting signatures to put the Clean Elections referendum on the ballot. Over 1.1 million voters cast their votes to enact the law. It passed in every single senatorial district in Massachusetts. For this reason, MCHC felt that the people of Massachusetts deserved to know where their legislators stood on the repeal of Clean Elections.
To throw some light on the matter, MCHC called each senator’s office and ask them how the senator had voted in the voice vote on Amendment 500. Calls were made over a two week period. If the senator did not cast a voice vote for any reason, we asked where the senator stood, i.e. whether they would have supported “aye” or “nay” on Amendment 500 if given a chance. Three telephone calls were made to each office that was slow to provide the requested information, and a final email seeking needed information was mailed to each senator. In most cases, the answers were provided by office aides, most of whom called back after they spoke to the senator.
The results of the polling are provided in the table below. Fifteen senators stated support for the repeal 13 stated their opposition, and 12 did not provide a response. Senators Barrios, Creem, Fargo, Hedlund, Joyce, Resor, and Tolman spoke against repeal on the floor. Those senators who responded deserve to be thanked for making their position known. This table will be updated if a response is received from any of the senators who did not respond.
Poll of the Massachusetts Senate
Position on Amendment 500, Repeal of Clean Elections, adopted May 29, 2003
CODE FOR RESPONSES:
Y= aye (to repeal)
N= nay (not to repeal)
X = did not reveal position
SENATOR PARTY-DISTRICT RESPONSE
Antonioni , Robert A. (D-Leominster) Y
Baddour, Steven A. (D-Methuen) Y
Barrios , Jarrett T. (D-Cambridge) N
Berry , Frederick E. (D-Peabody) Y
Brewer , Stephen M. (D-Barre) X
Chandler , Harriette (D-Worcester) X
Creedon, Jr. , Robert S. (D-Brockton) Y
Creem , Cynthia Stone (D-Newton) N
Fargo , Susan C. (D-Lincoln) N
Glodis , Guy William (D-Worcester) Y
Hart, Jr. , John A. (D-South Boston) X
Havern III , Robert A. (D-Arlington) Y
Hedlund , Robert L. (R-Weymouth) N
Jacques , Cheryl A. (D-Needham) N
Joyce , Brian A. (D-Milton) N
Knapik , Michael R. (R-Westfield) X
Lees , Brian P. (R-E. Longmeadow) X
Magnani , David P. (D-Framingham) N
McGee, Thomas M. (D-Lynn) X
Melconian , Linda J. (D-Springfield) X
Menard , Joan M. (D-Somerset) Y
Montigny , Mark C. (D-New Bedford) X
Moore , Richard T. (D-Uxbridge) X
Morrissey , Michael W. (D-Quincy) X
Murray , Therese (D-Plymouth) Y
Nuciforo, Jr. , Andrea F.(D-Pittsfield) Y
O'Leary , Robert (D-Cummaquid) Y
Pacheco , Marc R. (D-Taunton) X
Panagiotakos , Steven C. (D-Lowell) Y
Resor , Pamela P. (D-Acton) N
Rosenberg , Stanley C. (D-Amherst) N
Shannon, Jr. , Charles E.(D-Winchester) N
Sprague , Jo Ann (R-Walpole) N
Tarr , Bruce E. (R-Gloucester) Y
Tisei , Richard R. (R-Wakefield) Y
Tolman , Steven A. (D-Brighton) N
Travaglini, Robert E. (D-East Boston) X
Tucker , Susan C. (D-Andover) N
Walsh , Marian (D-Boston) Y
Wilkerson , Dianne (D-Boston) Y
15 aye (for repeal)
13 nay (against repeal)
12 no response
Compiled by the Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities
Results current as of 6/17/03
Voice Votes Make Accountability Difficult
by John Andrews
Legislative bodies often use voice votes to speed their work. But voice votes are normally used for relatively non-controversial measures or for routine procedural matters. When a voice vote is used to pass major legislation, it often prevents constituents from determining whether their elected officials actually represented their best interests.
Finding out how Massachusetts Senate voted on the Clean Elections repeal was not easy. MCHC volunteers made almost 200 telephone calls and sent out 20 email queries to produce the poll results above. We were able to talk directly to about six senators. In the other cases, the response came from legislative aides.
The offices of five senators simply refused to provide an answer. One aide told us that “No one is supposed to know how you vote when its a voice vote.”
Seven offices simply kept promising to have someone call us back, but they never did.
Aids to two different senators told us that the Senate President didn’t really listen to the results of the actual voice vote on the floor because “the sense of the Senate had already been decided in the (Democratic Party) caucus.” When asked if it was proper for an act of the legislature to be decided in a closed door meeting that excluded elected legislators and the public, no answer was received. Such a process raises the specter of a voice vote in which nays are in the majority, yet the Senate President declares that the ayes win because of a vote cast in a previous private meeting.
Some senators tried to defend the repeal of Clean Elections with arguments that were contradictory, showed ignorance of the actual Clean Elections Law, or had been conclusively refuted by experience. Some senators said that the small amount of money needed for Clean Elections was unaffordable – even though it amounts to less than one one-hundredth of the tax breaks the Legislature has awarded to the special interests who fund their campaigns. No senator articulated what most observers say is the major reason for their opposition to Clean Elections: Incumbents enjoy a tremendous fundraising advantage over challengers and this helps almost 70% of Massachusetts incumbents run unopposed. The need for public hearings to better inform the Senate and the public on the merits and implications of the Law was obvious.
MCHC is continuing to ask the senators that did not reveal their position on Amendment 500 to make their position known. The poll results will be updated each time a senator replies. We hope that the Senate leadership will come to understand how the abuse of the democratic process injures their credibility and erodes the confidence of voters in the Legislature. When critical decisions are being made, the voters of Massachusetts deserve to know that their elected officials represented their best interests. Our democracy cannot function when openness and accountability are sacrificed for political expediency.