Public-Finance Advocate Warren Tolman Won’t Commit To Public Finance

It's quite a departure from his longstanding rhetoric on the topic.

Warren Tolman, who has long called public campaign financing a top priority and who sponsored clean-election bills as a state senator, declined to commit to participating in the state’s public-financing system for his current campaign for Attorney General—a campaign in which he is significantly out-raising his opponents.

In response to my inquiry, a Tolman campaign spokesperson said that Tolman was not ruling it out, but would not commit at this point to participating, which would require him to accept spending limits. Candidates are not required to opt in or out until June.

The other two Democratic candidates for Attorney General, prosecutor Maura Healey and state representative Hank Naughton, would also not commit to participating in the system. All three campaigns—and other political observers—point to legitimate reasons for candidates to hesitate before opting into the system; in addition to the spending restriction, it is unclear whether public funds will even be available. In 2010, some candidates opted in—including Martha Coakley, Steve Murphy, Tim Cahill, Mary Connaughton, and Suzanne Bump—but just as many did not.

But Tolman’s openness to forgoing the process can be seen as contrary to his longstanding rhetoric on the topic.

Tolman was the only statewide candidate to qualify for public funds 2002 when he ran unsuccessfully for governor. During that campaign, he repeatedly criticized his opponents for failing to participate in the existing public funding system, and ran television ads accusing them of being untrustworthy because of contributions from lobbyists.

The $3 million Tolman received from the state, under the earlier version of clean elections law, helped level the playing field for him against bigger fundraisers such as Tom Birmingham and Shannon O’Brien.

For the current campaign, Tolman has already raised more than $400,000 since declaring his candidacy for Attorney General in November—nearly twice as much as Healey, and several times more than Naughton. His contributors include registered lobbyists. Participating in the public-financing system would limit his spending in the primary campaign to about $650,000.

“In 2002 he said that this type of activity was corrupting,” says Naughton spokesperson Scott Ferson. “Warren ran on it as a moral issue. I guess he changed his mind because it didn’t work for him.”