This Is the Dumbest Of the Dumb Campaign Finance Laws

Although it's really hard to pick just one. Really.

On the long list of stupid things about the Massachusetts campaign-finance regulations, a strong contender for the stupidest is the contribution cap based on calendar year, rather than election cycle. This makes no sense at all for normal elections, but the truly staggering scope of the idiocy is revealed in special elections like the ones taking place now in and around Boston—for example, in the race to fill the Marty Walsh-sized vacancy in the 13th Suffolk district of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Walsh won the mayoral election in November, but did not officially resign his House seat until early January, a couple of days before his inauguration; that resignation allowed the Secretary of the Commonwealth to establish a special election schedule—the primary is March 4—and make nominating papers available.

Most of the candidates running to succeed Walsh opened their campaign committees at that point in early January. As a result, their supporters can give only $500, the maximum contribution allowed per calendar year. Dan Hunt, who is apparently savvier than they, opened his account in November. For all intents and purposes, the cap on his donors’ contributions is doubled; they could give him two $500 checks, one to deposit in December, and the other to deposit in January. That’s an enormous advantage. Hunt received 47 $500 contributions before the end of December; if half of those donors doubled down after New Year’s Eve, that’s an extra $10,000 plus—enough for a nice targeted mail piece.

To be sure, the dimwits who waited have themselves to blame; I come to praise Hunt, not bury him. But how does this rule make any rational sense? Why should a candidate get double limits for getting in a few weeks early to a three-month campaign?

Now consider the special election in Charlestown and Chelsea, also with a March 4 primary, to succeed Eugene O’Flaherty, Walsh’s appointee as top legal eagle. Many suspected that Walsh would put him into his administration, but O’Flaherty denied it pretty much right up to the moment the news went public on January 6.

Those who believed O’Flaherty thus got stuck starting their campaigns in early January and must live with the $500 limit. But Chris Remmes, who opened an account on December 3, can raise $1,000 each from the 23 people who gave him $500 before that month’s end. (To his credit, Remmes told me at the time that he was running with or without O’Flaherty in the race, and I believe he meant it.)

And finally, I turn to Revere and Chelsea, to condemn an disappointing act of ethical behavior by Kathi-Anne Reinstein, who announced her resignation in the Suffolk 16th district on January 2. In the race to succeed her—also with a March 4 primary—Reinstein is supporting her former chief of staff RoseLee Vincent.

Well, if Reinstein really wanted to help Vincnet, she could have given her a little early warning, to open an account and solicit a round of $500 checks before the calendar year ran out. As far as I know, there’s no actual law against this kind of insider-trading of information to take advantage of lame-brained campaign-finance laws, so I’m quite chagrined that Reinstein didn’t avail herself of this underhanded opportunity.