State Legislature Passes the Massachusetts Disclosure Act

Here’s a little bit of praise and a lot of insults for the lawmakers.

The state legislature has passed the Massachusetts Disclosure Act, which will do a number of good things in the area of campaign finance; they deserve credit for getting it done. But they chose not to do anything to improve their own disclosure requirements, and they deserve to be insulted for that.

Before I deliver the insults, here’s the good news. So-called Super PACs will be required to disclose donors as they spend money on local races, and even list top donors on advertisements. They can probably still do some sneaky maneuvers to delay discovery of the ultimate sources of money if they really want to, but at least such deliberate evasiveness will be much more apparent, while most cases will actually be fairly transparent.

The bill also adds some needed changes to disclosure rules around regular political action committees.

And, in a long-overdue move, the individual annual contribution limit will be raised from $500 to $1,000—which catches things up to inflation since the cap was set in 1994, and will allow candidates to at least raise something close to enough to actually inform and engage voters.

There are plenty of ways that the bill could have been better, but all legislation involves compromise, and this is a legitimate accomplishment that goes further than skeptics (including me) might have expected. So, it is receiving praise from Common Cause Massachusetts, MassVOTE and other groups. And from me.

OK, that’s the praise.

Now, I want you to take note that this bill passed on July 31 of an even-numbered year—that is, on the last day of the formal session, as the lawmakers break and go home to seek re-election this fall. A lot of legislation gets passed the last day of the formal session.

It might be interesting to know, as lawmakers take these votes, whether they have recently been pumped fat with shady shekels from representatives of an industry or interest group with high stakes in the bills. Sadly, we are not privy to such info, just as we were kept in the dark as they passed the latest state budget earlier this year.

The first donor-disclosure deadline for state legislators in an election year is not until eight days before the primary election—seven days this year, because of Labor Day. So we’ll get our first look at contributions since January 1, on or slightly before September 2.

I went mildly ballistic at this when the legislature last updated disclosure frequency not so many years ago. Setting their own disclosure deadlines in a way that ensures secrecy throughout the heart of budget- and bill-passing months is the act of pathetic, cretinous, subterranean, cowardly, duplicitous, arrogant, fatuous weasels. Or, so it seems to me.

The House passed the bill without any change to their own deadlines. The Senate, to their credit, added a watered-down version of an already too-weak standalone bill from Cynthia Creem, which would have at least made an effort to make the information available in time for voters to consider in the event of a primary challenge, which, for many of the Democratic incumbents, is the only real threat to re-election.

That went into conference committee, where leaders from the House and Senate agreed to snip that section out before moving it along to final passage.

To be fair, I do understand that earlier disclosure would be somewhat burdensome for lawmakers, who do not use the type of depository accounts (required of candidates for statewide and some other offices) for which banks take care of periodic reporting requirements. And, most legislators aren’t carrying around a lot of campaign staff to do the work.

Legitimate points. To which I respond: cry me a river, you craven, hypocritical, perfidious, dissembling, serpentine scoundrels.