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Money Played Big Role in 2002 Elections

by John Andrews, MCHC

Candidates for seats in the state legislature spent nearly $12 million in the 2002 elections according to a recent report from the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance[1]. Campaigns for Senate seats averaged more than $68,000 and campaigns for house seats averaged $25,000. The candidate who spent the most money won 88% of the time.

The 2003 figures were slightly less than the all-time high of $12.3 million in the year 2002 due to the absence of super fundraiser Thomas Birmingham. In 2002, Senate President Birmingham was raising money for his gubernatorial challenge.

The more powerful legislators finished the year with campaign warchests that far exceeded the average costs of running for the offices they hold. Senator Mark C. Montigny, former chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, ended the year with a campaign fund balance of $829,830. House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran finished with a warchest of $472,331. Finneran’s warchest has been tapped for such things as his trips to Ireland and Hawaii. Finneran emphasizes that these trips are “not at taxpayer expense”, although some taxpayers who are paying more in fees and taxes due to the favors Finneran has done for his big donors would disagree.

As usual, incumbents were showered with donations from special interests seeking to influence the legislative agenda. This put challengers at a distinct disadvantage and resulted in most races being unopposed. Pam Wilmot of Common Cause noted that it’s no coincidence that an incumbent senator hasn’t been defeated in eight years.

“The cost of running for office is escalating year after year, so fewer and fewer people can afford to run for office,” she said. “The long and short of it is that democracy is the loser in that equation.”[2]

A copy of the complete report can be downloaded from www.state.ma.us/ocpf/legrpt02.pdf. Some additional facts from the report are included in the table below.


REFERENCE

1. Office of Campaign and Political Finance, “Campaign Finance Activity by Candidates for the Massachusetts General Court – 2002”

2. “It’s all about the big cash: Donation, spending reaches highs”, by Michael Kunzelman , MetroWest Daily News,, September 25, 2003



Some Figures from the OCPF Report
“Campaign Finance Activity by Candidates for the Massachusetts General Court – 2002”


o 23 of the 40 Senate races were completely uncontested (only one candidate on the ballot). 85 of 160 house seats were uncontested. The number of real races was lower than this would indicate since in some cases there was a nominal opponent who did not run a serious race.

o Incumbents won in 138 of 144 races, a success rate of 93 per cent.

o The final party breakdown in the House was 136 Democrats, 23 Republicans, and 1 independent.

o For the Senate incumbents accounted for 73% of the funds raised. The average expenditure for an incumbent was $74,174 while challengers spent only $58,392. In the House, incumbents accounted for 56% of the spending. Incumbents spent an average of $29,949 while non-incumbents spent an average of $20,878.

o The 42 Democrats in Senate races accounted for 83% of the money raised for Senate seats. The 17 Republicans in these races accounted for the remaining 17%. In the House, Democrats accounted for 81% of the funds. 32 candidates from other parties (such as Green and Libertarian) accounted for 3.3% of the funds.

o The candidate who raised the most money was Speaker of the House Thomas Finneran who pulled in $370,641. (Note: This fundraising occurred despite the fact that Finneran was running unopposed).

o 9 candidates for the House received public funding under the Clean Elections Law (which the Legislature repealed in June 2003). These candidates received a total of $202,205. None of these candidates was an incumbent, and only one was elected.

  

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