Charlie Baker came by for a visit last week, and we immediately found something to agree on. I complained that I don’t even like hearing from candidates for statewide office more than a year before the election. Campaigns are just too damn long.
He agreed, and explained a one reason campaigns are so long in Massachusetts.
Federal campaign finance laws are organized by election, he said. Donors can give a certain amount before the primary, then can donate again to the general election campaign.
But in Massachusetts, caps are annual. Every year, you can donate a certain amount to a campaign or party. To maximize the campaign cash harvest, candidates declare in 2013 so they can go back and hit up those same donors again for the max in 2014. Incumbents like it because they can fund-raise constantly, building up a warchest year after year. That advantages discourages challengers and gives the incumbent a head start against any challengers that aren’t discouraged.
Another point of agreement: A lot of states prohibit fund-raising by legislators while the Legislature is in session. On Beacon Hill, that’s the best time to raise money, at least from special interests. I’ve often decried a longtime tradition in which the House Speaker holds a fund-raiser within walking distance of the State House, aimed specifically at lobbyists, the week the Ways & Means Committee releases the budget. Could the message be any more explicit that if you want your favorite item in the budget, you’d better show up at “the Speaker’s Time” with check in hand?
Election reform isn’t necessarily at the top of Charlie’s campaign agenda. He said he wants to speak almost exclusively about the economy, schools and community development. But I’d love to see election reform – not just campaign finance, but redistricting reform, early voting, open primaries and electronic vote-counting security – be part of the governor’s campaign.