The time has come, the watchdog said, to talk of many things: of candidates and interest groups — and the sly pledges an election sometimes brings.
Here, we speak of those quiet commitments politicians often make on the questionnaires that advocacy groups give to candidates seeking their endorsements. It’s a process cloaked in shadows, since those groups usually refuse to release the completed questionnaires.
So kudos to Chris Dempsey, Democratic candidate for auditor, for posting on his campaign website the questionnaires he has completed, allowing voters to see not just what those electorally involved organizations are asking but also how he has responded.
There is good reason to want candidates for auditor, the most important monitor of state government, to be as transparent as possible, but every candidate for office in Massachusetts should follow Dempsey’s example. The campaign of state Senator Diana DiZoglio, Dempsey’s rival in the Democratic primary, has said she will post her completed questionnaires as well. As of Thursday, four were up, but she hadn’t posted those from the Massachusetts Teachers Association or the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, both of which have endorsed her.
It should go without saying that candidates shouldn’t make undisclosed commitments to constituency groups. Nor, for that matter, should constituency or advocacy groups ask for answers they themselves won’t make public.
Yet many do. Take, for example, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. In a brief phone conversation, president Steven Tolman said this of his union’s questionnaires: “We don’t release people’s responses. That is for our internal information.” Pushed on whether it was appropriate for the union to seek nonpublic commitments from candidates for public office, Tolman said he would get back to the Globe editorial board. A spokesman later emailed a statement in Tolman’s name that failed to address the appropriateness question.
“While we do not release candidate questionnaires, we are proud to stand by the candidates we endorse and the issues for which we advocate,” it proclaimed.
Over at the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Scott McLennan, a spokesman, said the state’s largest teachers union wouldn’t release the completed questionnaires and advised a reporter to instead request them from the various candidates. Asked why the union thought it appropriate to seek commitments it wouldn’t make public from public candidates for public office, McLennan ducked and dodged.
The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees didn’t respond at all to a Globe editorial board request for the documents.
In a phone interview, Christopher Carlozzi, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said the business group has not yet written, let alone distributed, its endorsement questionnaire for non-incumbents, but added: “We don’t publicly disclose those.”
Still, thanks to Dempsey, we know the commitments at least some of these groups seek.
For unions, it’s often about limiting competition.
The AFL-CIO, for example, wants candidates to support so-called project labor agreements, which effectively keep non-union construction firms from competing for public construction contracts. Similarly, the union opposes any attempt by state government to contract with private firms for services currently provided by public employees. Thus this question: “Efforts to privatize in the name of larger corporate profits are a threat to the public services that working people rely on in our Commonwealth. If elected, what will you do to protect public services and defend against privatization?”
But AFSCME makes the AFL-CIO look like a piker when it comes to opposing privatization. That public-employee union asks no fewer than five questions on the matter, seeking not just a candidate’s commitment to the Pacheco Law, which makes privatization very difficult, but also to expanding that competition-discouraging statute. To wit: The union wants to extend the law to cover all municipalities, not just state government.
The MTA, unsurprisingly, is using its questionnaire to try to leverage anti-charter school promises.
Despite top-flight academic research showing the educational value that charter schools impart in Massachusetts, the MTA is dead set against the innovative public-school academies because they aren’t automatically unionized and answer to the state board of education rather than the local school district. Thus the MTA’s questionnaire seeks commitments from candidates on maintaining a current cap on charters and requiring local approval of all new charters, a tall order in most districts.
The MTA also wants candidates to join its never-ending battle to eliminate the MCAS test as a graduation requirement. The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System is widely credited with helping boost Massachusetts into the role of national leader on educational quality. But the state also uses scores from those standardized tests to evaluate schools and, if they are consistently subpar, to intervene to improve them.
The MTA also wants teachers to be given the legal right to strike and seeks support for changes in the pension-reform law passed a decade or so ago.
No matter where one stands on these public-policy matters, the candidates’ responses to those questions should be public.
“Publishing these responses on our website lets voters see for themselves what I am saying and what commitments I am making,” said Dempsey. “Every candidate should join me in taking this pledge for the sake of greater accountability and transparency. It’s the least that voters deserve.”
It’s hard to put things any better than that.
Correction: An earlier version of this editorial misspelled the name of Massachusetts Teachers Association spokesman Scott McLennan.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.