By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.
The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance (MassFiscal) last week filed a lawsuit against Attorney General Maura Healey and the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) alleging that one of the state’s campaign finance laws violates the constitution. The law requires ads that name any candidate or ballot question within 90 days of a General Election to include a statement from the sponsor’s chief executive officer in the case of a corporation, the chairman or principal officer of a group or association or the chief executive or business manager of a labor union. The law includes ads on television, radio and billboards, and in newspapers, magazines, periodicals and mailers.
The law is very specific and requires an officer’s statement on a television ad to be “conveyed by an unobscured, full-screen view of the person making the statement.” On Internet advertising, the statement must appear “in a clearly readable manner with a reasonable degree of color contrast between the background and printed statement.”
The ad must also include a list of the organization’s top five contributors and a link to the OCPF’s website. Anyone who violates any part of the law faces a year in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.
We’re not commenting on the lawsuit,” said Jason Tait, the spokesman for the OCPF. Attorney General Maura Healey’s office did not respond to a request for a statement.
A statement released by MassFiscal says the group objects to being forced to include irrelevant information about its officers and donors on its ads. The group says these requirements may result in viewers making biased judgments about an ad based on the officer’s sex, gender, race, speech pattern or other irrelevant personal characteristics. They note that for donors, these requirements imply that the donors funded the ad, when in fact they may agree or disagree with the ad or know nothing about it and simply contributed money to support the organization’s overall mission.
“We enacted this law to make sure that dark money contributions will not have free rein to affect our elections,” said Sen. Cindy Creem (D-Newton). “We are learning every day how vital it is to protect our democracy from secret manipulation, and I cannot understand anyone who says the source of money is irrelevant. Those who make the most substantial donations should not be able to hide their identities from the public.”
MassFiscal says it wants to advertise legislative scorecards and educate the public on the Legislature’s vote to increase its pay while raising taxes. However, the group says it “will choose silence rather than allow the government to co-opt its message and violate the rights of its members.”
“Transparency is critically important when it comes to campaign finance,” said former Sen. Barry Finegold who was a leader in the crafting and passage of the law. “This law is based on common sense. It doesn’t say that outside groups who care about a particular race can’t help their candidate, but voters deserve to know who’s paying for these ads so that they can make a fully informed decision.”
“In addition to violating the privacy of a group’s supporters and biasing the perception of advertisers, Massachusetts’ disclaimer requirements impose significant costs on speakers,” continued the MassFiscal statement. “The lawsuit estimates that the disclaimer takes up eight seconds of an ad – television airtime worth hundreds of dollars. Considering that few ads air only once, Massachusetts’ disclaimer rules can add thousands of dollars to an effective advertising campaign. If a group does not comply with the law correctly, it can face substantial fines or even criminal prosecution.”
“The two major revisions to our state’s campaign finance laws that have occurred over the last several years are classic examples of intimidation legislation, plain and simple,” said Paul Craney a spokesman for the MassFiscal. “Our state government should be working to expand our First Amendment rights, not contract them. This lawsuit is not about getting rid of disclosure. Rather, this is about removing intimidation from the process.”
“With this lawsuit, Mass Fiscal Alliance is finally admitting that they are funded by dark money that is a direct attack on our country’s democracy,” said Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton). “We need greater transparency in government, especially in campaign finance, yet MassFiscal is seeking to hide its wealthy donors, while attacking candidates across Massachusetts with misleading mailings and social media posts. People across all party lines are strongly opposed to corporate money influencing elections, yet MassFiscal is seeking to use even more wealthy donations to corrupt elections.”
“Sen. Eldridge wants to modulate the key and then not debate with me,” responded Craney. “If you’re not a ‘Hamilton’ fan, it means Sen. Eldridge is part of a group of lawmakers who will do everything in their power to limit the First Amendment, the freedom of speech. He proudly passed the intimidation legislation as a way to silence opposition and opposing views. Our views are so dangerous because they expose his votes and record. It’s the same tactic that was used by Southern racist Dixiecrats during the civil rights era. Luckily the Supreme Court sided with the NAACP and in this unfortunate modern-day comparison, Eldridge is on the wrong side of history.”
“Mass Fiscal is part of a movement of far right-wing extremists across the nation that are trying to rig the system for their wealthy corporate donors by falsely invoking the First Amendment to justify their dangerous policies,” responded Eldridge. “Thankfully, every time they send one of their infamous propaganda, I get many calls from Massachusetts residents who see right through Mass Fiscal’s misleading attacks. I’m confident that the court will as well.”
“I happen to disagree with the MassFiscal position, but I totally get it,” said Sen. Mike Barrett (D-Lexington). “It’s only human to want to say hurtful things behind another person’s back, with no blowback on you, the individual whose only involvement is financing the whole thing.”
“There is no legitimate reason for the government to require a group’s CEO to appear on-screen during an ad,”, said Allen Dickerson, Legal Director of the Institute for Free Speech Legal which is working with MassFiscal on the suit. “Nor is there justification for listing individual donors on ads they may know nothing about. These requirements simply raise the cost of speaking about government by forcing speakers to waste their resources promoting the government’s message.”
2014 HOUSE AND SENATE VOTE ON THE CAMPAIGN FINANCE DISCLOSURE LAW
House 142-10, Senate 38-1, approved this disclosure law in 2014. Here’s how your local legislators voted on it.
(A “Yes” vote is for the law. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Christine Barber Was not yet elected Rep. Mike Connolly Was not yet elected Rep. Denise Provost Yes Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
NO LONGER REQUIRE HAND-WRITTEN USED VEHICLE RECORD BOOK (S 2269) – It took eight months but House approved a non-controversial Senate-approved bill repealing the outdated current requirement that all car dealers maintain a book in which they enter extensive hand-written information about each used vehicle sold. The Senate approved the bill unanimously on February 1 and the House Ways and Means Committee held onto it until last week. Only final approval in each branch is need prior to the measure going to Gov. Charlie Baker.
The law was put on the books decades ago to ensure that used car sales were tracked so that police and other law enforcement could access them. The bill would allow the information to be maintained in the dealer’s online database.
Supporters said dealers switched to online record-keeping years ago but under this antiquated law are still required to also maintain this hand-written book which duplicates what is online and is a waste of the dealer’s time. They said they don’t know of a single case in the past few decades in which a law enforcement official has asked to see this book.
HEALTHY FOOD AND BEVERAGE ONLY IN VENDING MACHINES (S 1217) – Approved by the Public Health Committee on April 2, 2018 and still stuck in the Senate Ways and Means Committee is a bill that would require all food and beverages sold through vending machines located in government buildings be limited to items that comply with the nutritional standards established by the state’s commissioner of public health.
ENSURE PRESCRIPTION MEDICINE IS AVAILABLE DURING EMERGENCIES (H 1178) – Approved by the Public Health Committee on May 21, 2018 and still stuck in the House Ways and Means Committee is a bill that would require the state to develop and publicize a statewide plan for ensuring the availability of prescription medications during a state of emergency. The plan would include allowing early refills of prescriptions, ensuring that vehicles delivering medications to pharmacies and hospitals are treated as emergency vehicles and establishing a toll-free telephone number and a website for citizens to get assistance in locating prescription medication.
BILLS SENT TO STUDY COMMITTEES – The Legislature sent hundreds of bills to a study committee in 2018. Almost every measure that is shipped off to a study committee is never actually studied and is essentially defeated. Here are some of those that met their fate via a study committee.
TAX CREDIT FOR ELECTRIC AND OTHER ALTERNATIVE FUEL VEHICLES (H 2585) – Provides a tax credit of up to $20,000 for taxpayers who purchase a new vehicle that is primarily fueled by an alternative fuel including electricity, liquid petroleum gas, natural gas or hydrogen fuel.
BAN MOST OUT-OF-STATE USE OF ELECTRONIC BANK TRANSFER (EBT)CARDS (H 106) – Prohibits welfare recipients from using their EBT cards in any state other than Massachusetts and its border states of Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.
Supporters say reports have shown that $2.3 million has been used on EBT cards in Florida and substantial amounts in California and St. Thomas. They said it seems that some people might be vacationing on taxpayer dollars.
Opponents say less than one percent of EBT dollars is spent out of state. They noted this “over the top” amendment would prevent someone from using money even to attend a family member’s funeral out of state.
BAN CELL PHONES IN SCHOOL ZONES (H 1878) – Prohibits the use of cell phones by drivers in a school zone. Violators would be fined $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense and $300 for subsequent offenses.
QUOTABLE QUOTES – BY THE NUMBERS EDITION
The number of students who since 2015 have attended an anti-violence education program, created by Attorney General Maura Healey and Patriots owner Bob Kraft, at Gillette Stadium focusing on long-term anti-violence and healthy relationship education.
The amount of public funds Democratic candidate for governor Jay Gonzalez will receive for his campaign against Gov. Baker. The funds are raised through a checkoff system on tax returns which allows taxpayers to voluntarily donate $1 of their tax liability to the state’s public financing of campaigns.
The amount of funding Gov. Baker said he hopes to use to fund the recommendations of his Black Advisory Council to increase opportunities for black students, expand pathways for advancement of black workers and help black-owned businesses become more competitive.
The percent of sampled mosquitoes that tested positive for the West Nile Virus according to the state’s Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel.
The amount of money Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia II is accused of stealing from the seven people who invested $363,690 in his high-tech company.
HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION? Beacon Hill Roll Call tracks the length of time that the House and Senate were in session each week. Many legislators say that legislative sessions are only one aspect of the Legislature’s job and that a lot of important work is done outside of the House and Senate chambers. They note that their jobs also involve committee work, research, constituent work and other matters that are important to their districts. Critics say that the Legislature does not meet regularly or long enough to debate and vote in public view on the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been filed. They note that the infrequency and brief length of sessions are misguided and lead to irresponsible late-night sessions and a mad rush to act on dozens of bills in the days immediately preceding the end of an annual session.
During the week of October 8-12, the House met for a total of 41 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 45 minutes.
Mon. October 8 No House session
No Senate session
Tues. October 9 House 11:00 a.m. to 11:06 a.m.
Senate 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Wed. October 10 No House session
No Senate session
Thurs. October 11 House 11:00 a.m. to 11:35 a.m.
Senate 11:01 a.m. to 11:16 a.m.
Fri. October 12 No House session
No Senate session
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at email@example.com