Disarm campaign war chests


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If he decides to run for governor in 2022, former Boston mayor Marty Walsh will have a head start of $ 5.1 million, thanks to the war chest he has amassed from donors who could naively imagine that they supported his re-election to mayor. If she shows up for the corner office, Attorney General Maura Healey will have $ 3.3 million. And if Charlie Baker, who announced Tuesday that he would not be running for a third term, ever decides to run for another position, he will have about $ 700,000 of campaign dough left to knead. Plus, given that all three politicians have collected a large chunk of this money in previous election cycles, they would be free to contact the same donors again for another check, allowing some of their supporters to effectively circumvent supposed rules. limit to $ 1,000. what a person can give to a state candidate in a single electoral cycle.

Nothing against Walsh, Healey or Baker, but the way that Massachusetts candidates can create campaign accounts for one election and then carry them over to another gives incumbents and those who have previously held public office a financial advantage that is just not good for democracy. And it’s also a little scam of donors; some of Walsh’s supporters might not have donated if they had known the money would be used to run in a Democratic primary for governor versus Healey, and vice versa. None of the potential candidates did anything illegal or even unusual, but they highlighted a long-standing weakness in pro-incumbent campaign finance rules.

Indeed, while statewide candidates tend to raise the most money and gain the most attention, the problem created by deferred campaign accounts is even more pernicious at the local level. A mayor or state official can raise thousands of dollars in each cycle, scaring off potential opponents, allowing the incumbent to run unopposed – then, in a vicious cycle, collect and spend even more money. ‘money. State Senate Speaker Karen Spilka, for example, raised around $ 200,000 last year for an election campaign in which she ran unopposed. In 2020, 30 of the 40 states The Senate races presented only one candidate.

Allowing candidates to carry over campaign accounts is just one more way to tip the scales against challengers and non-traditional candidates in Massachusetts. In much of the state, holders are listed first on the ballot papers. They are identified as “reelection candidates,” putting their political resumes on the ballot. A large number of incumbents – including a third of Spilka’s fellow senators – came to power first in low-turnout special elections called at short notice that maximize the benefit of elected officials who already have campaign accounts. with a pay (the two main candidates in the Special Election of the East Boston Senate, for example).

But at least as far as deferral accounts are concerned, this structural advantage for incumbents could be changed. In Alaska, candidates can carry only a small portion of their campaign accounts from one election to the next, limited to $ 50,000 for candidates for governor and less for lower positions; they must spend the rest by February 1 after the election. Although the law has been challenged by the Alaska ACLU as an infringement of free speech, it has been confirmed by the highest court of the state. The court noted that when an unopposed candidate raises funds and reserves them for a future election, they effectively bypass the donation limits for that future election. In Washington state, candidates can keep their remaining money, but only to run for the same job; they must seek written permission from donors to use the funds to find another office.

Since it is the legislature that should eliminate the outgoing legislators’ own advantage, we will not hold our breath. But if Massachusetts somehow forced candidates to use campaign funds in the race and cycle in which they were raised, the positive impact on the state’s political culture could be. immediate and far-reaching. Applicants can still raise as much as they want and donors can always give as much as they want. But applicants should start from scratch every cycle. Cardmembers would lose automatic fundraising a head start they now have over newcomers and some of their unfair advantage in special elections. Donors would know that the money they donate is used in the electoral cycle to which they wish to give it. Of course, politicians like Walsh and Healey would always be great candidates. But who knows how many other good candidates, for governor to city councilor, Massachusetts is losing to newcomer laws?


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.


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