Finneran’s king-like rule over the Massachusetts Legislature was legendary, setting the stage for years of supplicant legislators fearful that crossing him and subsequent House Speakers might land them punishment in the form of basement offices, bad committee assignments, or marginalized hopes for influencing legislation. Those who did the Speaker’s dirty work were rewarded with lucrative committee chairmanships, legislative boondoggles for their home districts, and other tempting rewards. Finneran’s role in peddling influence in the State House should have landed him in jail but much of the corruption he was engaged in was perfectly legal. Yet it took the intervention of federal prosecutors in 2005 on a federal voting rights case to eventually land Finneran in disgrace as he plead guilty to one count of obstruction of justice, sparing him jail time.
But it was Finneran’s posturing against the voter-mandated Clean Elections Law that placed him right at the heart of the battle between special interests and the public interest. Voters who approved the measure by a 2-to-1 vote were stonewalled for years as Finneran, who called the law “welfare for politicians”, did everything in his power to stop the legislature from doing what it was legally required to do and appropriate money to fund Clean Elections candidates who met certain criteria to be eligible for Clean Elections funds. Finneran’s activism made him a target, and while the Supreme Judicial Court was willing to seize cars owned by the state’s lottery commission to raise funds for the law, they stopped short of honoring the plaintiff’s request that the SJC seize Finneran’s office furniture.
Make no mistake. This is not the story of one man sabotaging an otherwise functional democracy. This same State Legislature has had 3 house speakers in a row disgraced with federal indictments. This is the same legislature that has written itself out of the Open Meeting and Public Records laws, and typically enjoys 75% uncontested elections and 98% incumbent reelection rates. Massachusetts politics is rotten to its core, and whitewashing attempts like last year’s ethics reforms don’t even begin to address deep-rooted problems. The rhetoric of ethics, transparency, and responsibility ebbs and flows, but the corruption and influence-peddling continue apace.
But we don’t have to take this sitting down.
While Deval Patrick pays lip service to a green agenda — a people’s agenda — he continues to represent the interests of the well-connected few and heed their disproportionate guidance over the political process. Republican Charlie Baker and Independent Tim Cahill have shown even less interest in taking money out of politics. But there is one candidate who has refused to take money from corporate lobbyists or the executives who hire them, and she continues to point out the ways in which our government is being bought and paid for by big money interests.
Dr. Jill Stein, who was on the board of the Massachusetts Voters for Clean Elections, and came close to qualifying as a Clean Elections candidate in 2002, is running an inspired campaign to take back Beacon Hill in 2010. Her growing team is fueled by small grassroots donations, by volunteers, by Green-Rainbow Party activists, by independents and disaffected Democrats and Republicans alike. Alongside her campaign, her supporters have been assembling a grassroots fundraising mechanism to demonstrate what a clean elections campaign might look like.
So it was quite a shameful and fearful display by Finneran on June 16t when his WRKO-AM radio show “Tom & Todd” hosted the first broadcast debate in the governor’s race, and he refused to invite Dr. Stein to participate. What was Finneran afraid of? He was likely afraid that Stein would burst his status quo bubble, and was doing his part to keep her out of the story line.
With $750,000 available for public matching funds in Massachusetts this cycle, there’s a good chance that this election can become the tipping point for a permanent shift towards independent, clean-money politics. And that’s something that Tom Finneran spent most of his career trying to undermine. So it’s no surprise that his corporate-sponsored debate excluded one of his fiercest, most fearless, and most articulate opponents.
Now the ball is in our court. It’s up to us to build a clean money tidal wave that the corporate media can’t ignore, and that will get Jill’s message out through other more thoughtful channels.
Join us on Democracy Day — June 30th, 2010 — by making a $10 contribution to Jill Stein’s insurgent campaign for the corner office, and help us take back Beacon Hill so that it works for the people of the Commonwealth.