Few Americans want to see more money in politics these days. In fact, almost 80% favor limiting big donations, voicing concerns about the integrity of our democracy. But today Free Speech For People will be testifying at a public hearing to close an arbitrary loophole that has been allowing politically savvy groups to avoid registering as political committees in Massachusetts while donating up to $15,000 directly to candidates. That’s 30 times higher than the limit for contributions from individuals.
This gap in the law, created by an agency interpretation called an Interpretive Bulletin, has also spawned a baseless challenge to Massachusetts’ long-standing ban on corporate contributions that is now being pressed at the United States Supreme Court in an effort led by the Goldwater Institute. Free Speech For People joined with Common Cause Massachusetts in filing an amicus brief in support of the ban at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that led to questions about whether the Interpretive Bulletin has the force of law. Today, Free Speech For People will be calling on the Office of Campaign and Political Finance to rescind the offending Interpretive Bulletin from 1988, and protect the comprehensive statutory scheme that the legislature put in place to limit contributions and expenditures.
The Interpretive Bulletin was originally issued in response to concerns about small, non-political organizations being forced to register as political committees for buying a ticket to a candidate event. The advisory opinion that led to the bulletin envisioned groups like “the Women’s Bowling Club of North Somerville” that might buy a $15 ticket to a candidate event once in ten years. But in reality, some groups are exploiting the agency’s guidance to pump $15,000 contributions to candidates into the system election cycle after election cycle. That $15,000 threshold, set in the Interpretive Bulletin, has no basis in the statute or any administrative record. Instead, it was set arbitrarily by the agency as representing an amount that is “no more than incidental.” That number dwarfs the strict contribution limits – $1000 for individuals and $500 from political committees – set by the statute to ensure transparency and prevent corruption.
It’s time for the agency to end this unregulated flow of big money into Massachusetts politics. For more information on the plans to revisit the Interpretive Bulletin, visit the OCPF website and mark your calendar for future opportunities to comment on the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: Defining Political Committees.