There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.
The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance (MassFiscal) last week filed a lawsuit against Attorney General Maura Healey and the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) alleging that one of the state’s campaign finance laws violates the constitution.
The law requires ads that name any candidate or ballot question within 90 days of a General Election to include a statement from the sponsor’s chief executive officer in the case of a corporation, the chairman or principal officer of a group or association or the chief executive or business manager of a labor union.
The law includes ads on television, radio and billboards, and in newspapers, magazines, periodicals and mailers.
The law is very specific and requires an officer’s statement on a television ad to be “conveyed by an unobscured, full-screen view of the person making the statement.”
On Internet advertising, the statement must appear “in a clearly readable manner with a reasonable degree of color contrast between the background and printed statement.”
The ad must also include a list of the organization’s top five contributors and a link to the OCPF’s website. Anyone who violates any part of the law faces a year in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.
“We’re not commenting on the lawsuit,” said Jason Tait, the spokesman for the OCPF. Attorney General Maura Healey’s office did not respond to a request for a statement.
A statement released by MassFiscal says the group objects to being forced to include irrelevant information about its officers and donors on its ads.
The group says these requirements may result in viewers making biased judgments about an ad based on the officer’s sex, gender, race, speech pattern or other irrelevant personal characteristics.
They note that for donors, these requirements imply that the donors funded the ad, when in fact they may agree or disagree with the ad or know nothing about it and simply contributed money to support the organization’s overall mission.
“We enacted this law to make sure that dark money contributions will not have free rein to affect our elections,” said Sen. Cindy Creem (D-Newton). “We are learning every day how vital it is to protect our democracy from secret manipulation, and I cannot understand anyone who says the source of money is irrelevant. Those who make the most substantial donations should not be able to hide their identities from the public.”
MassFiscal says it wants to advertise legislative scorecards and educate the public on the Legislature’s vote to increase its pay while raising taxes.
However, the group says it “will choose silence rather than allow the government to co-opt its message and violate the rights of its members.”
“Transparency is critically important when it comes to campaign finance,” said former Sen. Barry Finegold who was a leader in the crafting and passage of the law. “This law is based on common sense. It doesn’t say that outside groups who care about a particular race can’t help their candidate, but voters deserve to know who’s paying for these ads so that they can make a fully informed decision.”
The MassFiscal statement said, “In addition to violating the privacy of a group’s supporters and biasing the perception of advertisers, Massachusetts’ disclaimer requirements impose significant costs on speakers. The lawsuit estimates that the disclaimer takes up eight seconds of an ad — television airtime worth hundreds of dollars. Considering that few ads air only once, Massachusetts’ disclaimer rules can add thousands of dollars to an effective advertising campaign. If a group does not comply with the law correctly, it can face substantial fines or even criminal prosecution.”
Paul Craney, a spokesman for the MassFiscal, said, “The two major revisions to our state’s campaign finance laws that have occurred over the last several years are classic examples of intimidation legislation, plain and simple. Our state government should be working to expand our First Amendment rights, not contract them. This lawsuit is not about getting rid of disclosure. Rather, this is about removing intimidation from the process.”
* 2014 House and Senate vote on the Campaign Finance Disclosure Law — House 142-10, Senate 38-1, approved this disclosure law in 2014. Here’s how your local legislators voted on it.
(A “Yes” vote is for the law. A “No” vote is against it.)
Yes: Rep. Jennifer Benson, Rep. Sheila Harrington, Sen. Jamie Eldridge
Was Not Elected Yet: Sen. Dean Tran
Also up on Beacon Hill
* Healthy food and beverage only in vending machines (S 1217) – Approved by the Public Health Committee on April 2, 2018 and still stuck in the Senate Ways and Means Committee is a bill that would require all food and beverages sold through vending machines located in government buildings be limited to items that comply with the nutritional standards established by the state’s commissioner of public health.
* Ensure prescription medicine is available during emergencies (H 1178) – Approved by the Public Health Committee on May 21, 2018 and still stuck in the House Ways and Means Committee is a bill that would require the state to develop and publicize a statewide plan for ensuring the availability of prescription medications during a state of emergency. The plan would include allowing early refills of prescriptions, ensuring that vehicles delivering medications to pharmacies and hospitals are treated as emergency vehicles and establishing a toll-free telephone number and a website for citizens to get assistance in locating prescription medication.