- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 10, 2002

BOSTON (AP) Massachusetts is facing the possibility of an auction of some unusual state-owned real estate: a surplus clock tower, an old armory and even a former hospital cemetery.
All these state-owned properties could be in the hands of the highest bidder by next month as part of the price Massachusetts is paying for its public campaign-financing law.
A judge last week gave advocates of its so-called "clean elections" law the power to sell state property to pay candidates money they are owed for upcoming November elections.
The law, passed overwhelmingly by voters in 1998, offers public money to candidates who agree to fixed spending and contribution limits. But although a fund to make the payments has grown to $23 million, lawmakers have refused to release the money because of a looming budget deficit of $2 billion next year.
Maine, Arizona, Vermont have passed similar campaign laws. A clean-election bill was vetoed recently by Connecticut's governor and one died last year in North Carolina's legislature.
Massachusetts already owes its clean elections candidates about $250,000, and that price tag could run into the millions if other candidates decide to run this year.
The courts stepped in when Massachusetts lawmakers wouldn't release the money for the law. The Supreme Judicial Court had earlier ruled it could not order the legislature to appropriate funds, but could order the state to sell property to replenish a fund used to pay judgments against the state.
The ruling by Supreme Judicial Court Justice Martha Sosman put virtually no restrictions on what kind of property could be auctioned, saying advocates could even target artwork and "historic artifacts."
Advocates said they will steer clear of icons like the state's portrait of patriot Samuel Adams or the "Sacred Cod," a wooden sculpture that hangs in the House chambers as a reminder of Massachusetts' maritime history.
"We certainly won't sell open space. We won't sell any historic artifacts or artworks," said David Donnelly, director of Massachusetts Voters for Clean Elections. "Aside from that, we're keeping our options open."
A property list released Monday by the Attorney General's Office includes a clock tower in Hull, a surplus armory in Malden and the Metropolitan State Hospital in Belmont.
Clean Elections lawyer John Bonifaz said advocates are expected to have a final list soon. Once the property is advertised, the state has 30 days to finish the auction.
"The plaintiffs have complete discretion to determine what property will be seized and sold," Mr. Bonifaz said. "We're busy on our end identifying properties that are least intrusive and are arguably wasteful assets."
A spokesman for House Speaker Thomas Finneran declined to comment Monday. Mr. Finneran has said the money would be better spent on other state programs. A call to Senate President Thomas Birmingham was not returned.
The sale of a single parcel could be enough to cover the amount the state now owes candidates, according to Assistant Attorney General Peter Sacks.
In January, the court ordered the legislature to pay candidates who have qualified for the money or repeal the law. The House and Senate then passed slightly different versions of a bill that would partially fund the law, and the measure has stalled.

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