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Campaign Reforms - Legal Victory for Clean Elections in Massachusetts:

In a land mark decision, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on February 25, 2002 awarded a money judgment to candidates who have been certified for public campaign funding under the Massachusetts Clean Elections Law. The Court awarded $811,050 to Gubernatorial candidate Warren Tolman and remanded the case to a single justice to award similar relief to other candidates who become certified under the law.

This is a tremendous victory for the voters of Massachusetts, for the Massachusetts Constitution, for the campaign finance reform movement, and for democracy.

This order comes a month after the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled, by a vote of 5-2, that the Massachusetts Legislature is constitutionally obligated, to fund the voter-enacted Clean Elections Law. The Clean Elections Law, which creates a system of public financing for elections for statewide and legislative office, has been stalled because of the Legislature's refusal to appropriate the necessary funds for the program. The SJC's ruling holds that, under Article 48 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution, the Legislature "is constitutionally required to appropriate the funds necessary to its operation" so long as the Clean Elections Law remains in effect.

This suit developed out of a long fight to overhaul the campaign finance system in Massachusetts. In November 1998, after years of organizing work by local reform organizations, Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative to create a voluntary public financing system for statewide and state legislative elections. The initiative, known as the Massachusetts Clean Elections Law, is scheduled to go into effect for the 2002 elections. Yet, the Massachusetts legislature has, to date, refused to provide the necessary funding for the law. The Massachusetts Clean Elections Law will be meaningless without such funding.

On August 1, 2001, candidates for statewide office seeking to qualify for the public funds began accepting small qualifying contributions and forgoing larger donations, as is required under the new law. While the State Legislature had set aside $10 million in each of the last two fiscal years, that funding is still unavailable due to legislative inaction. In addition, the amount currently bottled up in the Clean Elections Fund is not enough to effectively implement the law. With no money available from the Clean Elections Fund, statewide candidates seeking to qualify in the new system face the prospect of withdrawing their participation and potentially shutting down their campaigns. State legislative candidates will be faced with the same level of uncertainty in the very near future.

The plaintiffs in the suit include: Mass Voters for Clean Elections, Common Cause Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Republican Party, the Massachusetts Green Party, five statewide candidates seeking to qualify for public funds; two legislative candidates; and individual voters from across the state. The Institute serves as co-counsel in the case with the Boston law firm of Foley Hoag & Eliot; former Massachusetts assistant attorney general Edward Colbert, now of Looney & Grossman; Richard L. Neumeier of McDonough, Hacking & Neumeier, and Donald J. Simon, general counsel to Common Cause in Washington, D.C.

To hear the oral argument in this case, please visit www.massvoters.org, or click here to view a transcript in pdf form (pdf).

Visit the legal library or the press room to read more about this case.