Lead Sponsor: Senator Jamie Eldridge
Summary: This bill would provide candidates for legislative offices in Massachusetts with the option to forgo large private campaign donations, and instead fund their campaigns using a combination of small private donations and public matching funds.
Why This Matters: Running for public office is expensive, and candidates for public office spend an extraordinary amount of time raising money in order to be viable. The realities of campaign finance in the status quo reduce the amount of time candidates can spend speaking with voters, the amount of time officials can spend working with constituents, and the willingness of challengers to take on incumbents. In addition, as a result of their ability to make large contributions, large dollar donors, PACs, corporations and special interest groups wield a tremendous amount of political influence. Public financing would solve both of those problems by reducing the amount of time political candidates would have to spend fundraising and ensuring that public officials are politically indebted to the people of Massachusetts rather than a few big dollar donors.
Public financing of political campaigns for legislative office is not a new or untested idea. President Theodore Roosevelt proposed a public financing system for congressional elections more than a century ago and Maine and Arizona both have robust public financing systems for state legislative races that have been working for decade. Massachusetts had a public financing system for legislative races from 1998, when it was approved by voters, until 2003 when it was repealed by the Legislature.
What this Bill Would Do: This bill would set up a public financing system for candidates for legislative office in Massachusetts:
- To qualify for public financing, a candidate would need to collect a specified amount of low dollar ($5 limit) contributions to begin with ($450 for State Senate candidates; $200 for State Representative candidates.)
- Once a candidate has qualified, he or she would be eligible to receive public matching funds at a 4 to 1 ratio for additional donations received from supporters.
- Certified “Clean Elections” candidates would not be allowed to collect or spend funds beyond the limits set in the bill.
- For State Senate races, the limits would be $60,000 for a primary race and $120,000 for a general.
- For State Representative races, the limits would be $20,000 for a primary race and $40,000 for a general.
- The cost for a public financing program is estimated to be less than $10 million.
View the full text of the bill and track its history here.