Cellucci seen vetoing $10m for elections

By Michael Crowley and Frank Phillips, Globe Staff, 11/16/99

nmoved by more than 100 chanting protesters at his office door yesterday, Governor Paul Cellucci has decided to veto $10 million in the state budget to fund a voter-passed Clean Elections Law, as well as new language that supporters of campaign-finance reform say guts the intent of the law, sources said.

Cellucci met yesterday afternoon with a handful of activists after a noisy throng clogged the hallway and stairwells outside his office, at one point drawing a security force of nine State Police, some in riot helmets.

Cellucci said he was listening to the activists, but sources said the governor had already concluded over the weekend that he would veto both the $10 million in funding and the controversial language changes. ''He was headed in that direction for a couple of days,'' said one Cellucci adviser. ''The decision has been made.''

Cellucci, who sources say will also veto more than $100 million in education funds, apparently did not make his decision on the Clean Elections Law clear to campaign finance reform activists. They emerged from a meeting with the governor yesterday saying they were encouraged that he had seemed receptive to their concerns.

''We are pleased that he is open-minded about it,'' said David Donnelly, director of Massachusetts Voters for Clean Elections, the group that pushed the 1998 ballot initiative that created the law.

The protesters had hoped to convince Cellucci not to veto the $10 million in funding for the election-reform law, which would give matching dollars to eligible political candidates in an effort to limit the influence of special-interest money and help make state elections more competitive.

The protesters also urged Cellucci to strike language added by the Legislature that would allow incumbents to raise huge amounts of money for most of their terms and then tap into the new system six months before an election.

Yesterday's boisterous crowd of activists pursued the governor as he left a meeting with Republican leaders, jeering and shouting as he jumped into a waiting black sedan.

Later, the group staged a sit-in outside Cellucci's office, leading his aides to take the rare step of closing the governor's office doors and shutting down a nearby elevator bank, as organizers passed out bottled water, ordered pizzas, and chanted, ''Clean elections now!''

Legislative leaders have argued that the Clean Elections law passed overwhelmingly last year would limit their ability to pay for constituent services and other important noncampaign activities. The governor has raised several other concerns about the law, including his opposition to giving taxpayer dollars to candidates and the long-term costs of the measure.

The governor will let stand a legislative proposal that will create a study of the Clean Elections Law and its potential costs. Advocates say the voluntary public election financing, which kicks in for the 2002 state elections, needs $56 million in public funds, but critics say it may cost considerably more.

Cellucci has also argued that the money is not needed this year and that the state should delay funding, pending court challenges that could affect national campaign-finance laws. Advocates argue that the governor and legislators must demonstrate a willingness to fund the system in order to encourage candidates to join the system.

Candidates for the Legislature and statewide office can qualify by raising enough matching funds in donations that cannot exceed $100.

Meanwhile, Cellucci will unveil his other budget vetoes today, which could slash more than $400 million from the $20.87 billion spending plan passed by the Legislature last week.

With the Legislature scheduled to adjourn for the year at midnight tomorrow, lawmakers are still unsure whether they will be able to override key Cellucci vetoes. The Senate voted last week to convene for special sessions if necessary, but an attempt to suspend House rules and extend formal legislative sessions was easily defeated yesterday.

The vote was an important victory for House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, who is wary of having the Legislature return for an open-ended special session.

A group of dissident House members were puzzled yesterday after winning just 43 votes on the motion to convene a special session. Earlier, they had collected 61 signatures from members for a letter asking Finneran to convene such a session.

Sources said Cellucci's other vetoes will include $117 million in education funds that the governor did not seek. Word of those expected cuts stunned advocates of increased education funding, including Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham, who insisted the budget include $245 million to fund the state's 1993 Education Reform Act. ''I can't believe my ears,'' Birmingham said. ''This is just folly.''

Cellucci has said his budget and the House plan included enough money to fund education reform. But Birmingham said those budgets used ''sleight of hand'' to divert $90 million from schools.

Geoffrey Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said that such a veto would be ''enormously troubling,'' especially in light of the latest MCAS test results.