- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 17, 2002

BOSTON (AP) Pose a ballot question one way and voters approve it. Word it differently and they may change their minds. Ask it a third time, and they may just swing back to the "yes" column.
This is the history of Clean Elections voting in Massachusetts, where residents are of two minds maybe three when it comes to publicly financing political campaigns.
Last week, four years after Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved the Clean Elections law, an even greater number (75 percent) said they do not support the use of taxpayer money to fund campaigns.
But in another twist, voters in 10 state House districts simultaneously approved a question instructing their representatives to fully fund and implement the Clean Elections law.
"I wouldn't take a clear message away from this if I was a legislator," said Jeffrey Berry, a Tufts University political science professor.
The legislature, however, may do just that. Hostile to the law since its passage, legislative leaders are already preparing a bill to repeal it based on the statewide Nov. 5 vote. The lawmakers themselves put the nonbinding measure on the ballot.
"The voters are pretty smart," said Democratic state Rep. Joseph Wagner, one of the law's biggest foes. "Tax dollars for political campaigns is tantamount to welfare for politicians."
Supporters of the law argue, however, that the legislature manipulated the wording of the ballot question by focusing on the cost but never mentioning the fund-raising and spending limits by which the Clean Election candidates must abide.
"The legislature never really liked this law because it would increase competition for legislative elections," said Massachusetts Common Cause Director Pam Wilmot. "This question was produced by political opponents to give them political cover to do what they've wanted to do for quite some time."
But more than just the wording of the question has changed since 1998, when the law was approved. State tax revenue has dropped $2.5 billion in the past year, forcing deep cuts in social services. And some lawmakers say the state can no longer afford public campaign financing, the cost of which has been put at $20 million to $100 million during an election year.
And since its passage, the Clean Elections law has had an almost farcical history. After the legislature refused to fund the law, advocates appealed to the state's highest court, which earlier this year ordered the auction of state vehicles and other property to pay for it.


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