Lowell Sun: Eldridge eyes several limits on campaign donations with ethics bills

February 1, 2012
By Neal Riley

BOSTON — State Sen. Jamie Eldridge is looking to make Beacon Hill a more ethical place.

The Acton Democrat has filed two bills he said will fight the public perception that campaign contributions taint the legislative process.

One bill would ban legislators from holding fundraisers during budget deliberations. Another would limit campaign contributions from those who do business with the state, a practice he said damages public confidence.

“We all need to raise money in order to compete for elections,” Eldridge told a legislative committee Tuesday. “But let’s move away from the perception that during budget time, fundraising is done in order to influence what does or doesn’t happen in the budget.”

Eldridge is also seeking to address public concerns that politicians award state contracts and tax breaks and pass legislation as favors to campaign donors.

His proposal would prevent lobbyists from soliciting campaign donations and ban contributions from business executives — and their immediate families — who have a state contract or are applying for one.

Eldridge, whose Senate district includes Shirley, found himself at the center of a recent debate over retired lawmakers taking casino-industry jobs, spearheading an amendment to the casino bill imposing a one-year ban on former lawmakers taking casino jobs.

Eldridge has also been an outspoken opponent of the Citizens United ruling that eased restrictions on unlimited campaign spending by outside organizations. He recently proposed a nonbinding resolution by the Legislature calling for an amendment that overturns the court’s decision.

He has also filed a bill that would force corporations to disclose their political-campaign contributions.

Eldridge’s efforts have won the support of good government organizations.

“It’s critical that the public has confidence that decisions are being made on their merits and not who is funding political campaigns and who is not,” said Pamela Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts.

Wilmot said the so-called “pay-for-play” bill is modeled on laws passed in nine other states.

Eldridge’s bill would also limit campaign contributions per election, rather than per year. He said that would put challengers on a more level playing field.

Wilmot said former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi’s conviction last June for receiving kickbacks after helping to secure state contracts for a software company is seen as part of the pay-for-play culture on Beacon Hill.

“State contractors do give a fair amount of money to state elections, and they typically have the most to gain,” she said. “We need to protect the integrity of our public decision-making processes.”

Common Cause also supports banning lawmakers from holding fundraisers before and after deliberations.

“It does look bad when there are folks who are running off to fundraisers then coming back and voting,” she said.

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