One of Left Ahead’s favorite guests, MA Sen. James (Jamie) Eldridge joined us to talk campaign-finance reform, specifically disclosure of contributions. He’s as appalled as we about the Citizens United decision. He is a leader in nibbling away at its most pernicious effects with legislation here. Click below to hear is descriptions of the problems and solutions.
Currently he has two bills that could make big differences in next year’s elections, ones in which we have open governor, attorney general, and treasurer/receiver general spots. The flood of undisclosed donations, particularly those from out of MA, into the recent Boston mayoral election has set the stage. One of his bills, (S.321/H.651), requires timely disclosure of big donors — when contributions occur and not well after the election.
We covered a lot of the subject in the show — his current bills, the history of various campaign reform in both houses here, his own experiences running as a clean-elections candidate, the effects of outside money in Boston, and of course, the outlook for the watered down election-reform bill that passed our House and the outlook for S.321.
He also would like to see Citizens United reversed by Constitutional amendment. He doesn’t know whether public outrage will drive that in years rather than decades that such amendments usually require. Meanwhile, he is one of the legislators in various states hacking and nibbling at election-financing sins.
As someone who ran under clean-elections guidelines in 2002 (he won), he has the long view for our status. He talked about how he and a few other candidates had to sue when the legislature balked at meeting the legal requirements to enable that. He added that still a number of MA legislators have a bad taste for public funding. Some fear an influx of candidates vying for their seats. Eldridge says he’d consider such competition good for everyone.
To the current bills, he noted that elections reform died in the Senate last year, after the House passed it. He’s doing all he can to see that this doesn’t repeat this session. He says the Senate has to be stronger this time.
He spoke about the House’s reform bill that just passed. He found it tepid. It doesn’t include audit provisions and allows for early voting only in Presidential elections. However, he said the bill still improves the system. In fact, he thinks it’s possible that his S.321 might get folded into the House bill to streamline these related processes.
He hasn’t been surprised that elections reform has been low on the lists of many legislators. He notes that it isn’t a sexy issue and does not carry the same weight for many as bringing home the district bacon, for example.
He is optimistic that all — the House bill, his disclosure one, and his S.320 that requires corporations to disclosure their political contributions to shareholders — have a good chance. The latter is most at risk.
We haven’t heard many other legislators calling for public financing or spinning out disclosure bills. However, do check out the PDF file of S.321; the list of co-sponsors he’s gathered is impressive.
For Eldridge at least, “the most distasteful or perhaps the only distasteful” part of his role is raising money. He’d love to have all candidates publicly funded only. He thinks that a whole group of challengers would be great for the system and election outcomes.
On another hand, many pols don’t want challengers or at least want their war chests to overwhelm the resources of wanna-bes. Likewise, those who claim like Citizens United that anonymous money is free speech have been influential at judicial and Congressional levels. He noted with a chuckle that “the founding fathers didn’t have disclosure” laws.
For him though, such objections as the terrible onus of making timely disclosures of contributions ring hollow. He said the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) provides excellent software, making reporting trivial.
Eldridge would also like to see such interim solutions as people’s pledges, as the Elizabeth Warren/Scott Brown race agreed to, whereby outside campaign contributions would require the campaign receiving them to donate those amounts to charities. In the absence of public funding and the overturning of Citizens United, he sees those and state-level elections reforms as striking blows against unfair elections tactics.
Listen in above or at Left Ahead to hear his full positions.