Thursday, October 04, 2001

MASS sue for clean election laws

CONTACT: Jeff Cronin or Susan Quatrone, 202/736-5770.

CLEAN ELECTIONS COALITION TO SUE MASSACHUSETTS OVER LACK OF FUNDING FOR NEW REFORM LAW

LAWSUIT WILL SEEK IMMEDIATE REVIEW
BY THE MASSACHUSETTS SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT

PLAINTIFFS ALLEGE VIOLATION OF THE STATE CONSTITUTION

BOSTON, MA - A broad coalition of voters, candidates,
and organizations will file a lawsuit on Thursday
before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court over
the lack of funding for the Massachusetts Clean
Elections Law.

The coalition will name, as defendants, the
director of the Massachusetts Office of Campaign
and Political Finance (OCPF) and the Secretary of
the Commonwealth. The lawsuit will allege that,
by not fully implementing the Clean Elections Law,
the defendants are in violation of Article 48 of
the Massachusetts Constitution. The plaintiffs
will seek an immediate hearing before a full
panel of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

"We are unified in our desire to see the Clean
Elections Law fully funded as intended by the
voters and as required by the State Constitution,"
says David Donnelly, director of Mass Voters for
Clean Elections, a plaintiff in the case.
"As venerable institutions and as scrappy upstarts,
as participating statewide candidates and as voters
who simply want our votes to mean something, the
plaintiffs of this case have come together in
unity around one simple idea: We are asking the
state's highest court to vindicate our
constitutional rights."

The lawsuit cites Article 48, an amendment to the
state constitution, which states that if a law
approved by the voters is not repealed by the
State Legislature, the Commonwealth must appropriate
"such money as may be necessary to carry such law
into effect."

In November 1998, Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly
approved the Clean Elections Law, creating a voluntary
public financing system for candidates running for
statewide and state legislative offices. On
August 1, 2001, candidates for statewide office
seeking to qualify for the public funds began
accepting small qualifying contributions and forgoing
larger donations, as is required under the new law.
While the State Legislature had set aside $10 million
in each of the last two fiscal years, that funding is
still unavailable due to legislative inaction.
In addition, the plaintiffs argue, the amount
currently bottled up in the Clean Elections Fund
does not represent "such money as may be necessary
to carry such law into effect," as is required
by Article 48.

With no money available from the Clean Elections Fund,
statewide candidates seeking to qualify in the new
system face the prospect of withdrawing their
participation and potentially shutting down their
campaigns. State legislative candidates will be
faced with the same level of uncertainty in the
very near future.

The lawsuit seeks a court order mandating that
OCPF immediately implement the Clean Elections
Law and disburse the necessary funds to all
qualified candidates. While OCPF may claim that
it does not have any funds to disburse, the
plaintiffs will argue that such a claim is
not an excuse for a constitutional violation.

"This case is about protecting our democracy
and our state constitution," says Ken White,
executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts,
another plaintiff in the case. "When our most
basic rights are being trampled, we must seek
redress in the courts."

In addition to Mass Voters for Clean Elections,
Common Cause Massachusetts, the other plaintiffs
include: the Massachusetts Republican Party, the
Massachusetts Green Party, five statewide
candidates seeking to qualify for public funds
(Warren Tolman, Democratic candidate for
governor; Evan Slavitt, Republican candidate
for attorney general; Sarah Cannon Holden,
Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor;
Jill Stein, Green Party candidate for governor;
and James O'Keefe, Green Party candidate for
treasurer); two legislative candidates (State
Representative Doug Petersen and Stephen Spain,
a Democratic candidate for state senator);
and individual voters from across the state.

The legal team representing the plaintiffs
includes the Boston-based National Voting Rights
Institute, a prominent legal center specializing
in campaign finance litigation, the Boston law
firm of Foley Hoag & Eliot, former Massachusetts
assistant attorney general Edward Colbert, now
of Looney & Grossman; Richard L. Neumeier of
McDonough, Hacking & Neumeier, and Donald J. Simon,
general counsel to Common Cause in Washington, D.C.

To view the full text of the lawsuit, please log on to
the Common Cause website at http://commoncause.org/states/massachusetts/100401ma.htm.