BOSTON’S MAYORAL race captured voters’ imagination because, one way or another, it promised to change the direction of the city. One unwelcome change that the campaign ushered in, however, was a troubling increase in outside spending on the behalf of candidates. Because this spending is becoming a fact of life in politics, there’s an urgency to making sure voters can find out quickly who’s behind it.
Mayor-elect Martin Walsh was the beneficiary of most of the outside largesse; independent groups, apparently associated with labor unions, spent well over $2.5 million on his behalf. His opponent, John Connolly, benefited from big-ticket spending by other groups, such as Democrats for Education Reform. Yet because information about the financial backers of these groups currently doesn’t have to be made public until well after election day, voters are often forced to make a decision on candidates without knowing which special interests may be seeking their favor. Accountability suffers.
Rightly concerned by the uptick in super PAC spending, Secretary of State William Galvin and some lawmakers have proposed a bill that would require outside political committees to disclose financial information sooner. They would have to report their donors to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance every seven days. This would be sped up to every 48 hours within the last week of the election. In addition, ads purchased by super PACs would have to display the names of the group’s top five donors. This bill won’t be able to stanch the flow of unlimited political spending by super PACs — a phenomenon unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 — but it should strike an important blow for transparency in government.
State lawmakers should embrace the bill immediately — especially because delays would complicate efforts to implement its provisions in time for next year’s gubernatorial election. The Senate easily passed similar legislation last year. While there was little serious opposition to the bill in the House, it failed because the chamber ran out of time. Legislative leaders should make sure the bill passes this time, lest another important Massachusetts election be influenced by outside spending whose sources aren’t entirely clear.