Original URL:  http://www.boston.com/dailynews/296/region/Businesses_out_of_state_donors:.shtml

Businesses, out-of-state donors bankrolling ballot questions

By Steve Leblanc, Associated Press, 10/23/2002 15:40

BOSTON (AP) Corporations, CEOs and out-of-state donors are shelling out the lion's share of money being used to sway voters who will decide three statewide ballot initiatives.

More than $1 million of the $1.38 million raised during the past two years or about 72 percent has come from corporations, company heads or donors outside Massachusetts, according to an Associated Press review of campaign finance records.

Critics say out-of-state and corporate donations distort the intent of the initiative process, which gives ordinary voters the ability to oppose an entrenched Legislature.

Those collecting the money say contributions only help get out the message. In the end the fate of a question is in the hands of voters.

Supporters of Question 2, which would replace the state's existing bilingual education law with a one-year English immersion program, have raised $442,000 during the past two years more than 93 percent from outside Massachusetts or
corporate CEOs.

The question's brainchild, California software entrepreneur Ron Unz, has funneled about $175,000 of his own money into the campaign. Another $123,000 came from Unz' California-based English for the Children organization.

The question has attracted local donations, including $90,000 from Raymond Stata, CEO of Analog Devices in Norwood.

It has also received $5,000 from the Virginia-based group ProEnglish, which lists as one of its goals ending bilingual education programs in public schools.

Campaign Chairman Lincoln Tamayo acknowledges Unz's backing but said where the money comes from isn't important.

''What really matters is how best to educate these children,'' he said.

The Committee for Fairness to Children and Teachers, which opposes the question, also has relied on outside help.

Of the $206,000 it has raised, about 71 percent has come from outside Massachusetts, including $125,000 from the Shefa Fund, a Philadelphia-based philanthropy that encourages Jews to invest in community and education issues.

''Most of our money comes from people with a genuine interest in advancing educational opportunities for children,'' said Daniel Navisky, spokesman with the Committee for Fairness to Children and Teachers.

The group will also get help from the Massachusetts Teachers Association which plans to spend $250,000 of its own money on a television ad opposing the question.

The Committee for Small Government, pushing a ballot question to end the state's income tax, has collected the most money in the past two years: more than $513,000, most in relatively small donations from individuals.

About 62 percent of the group's itemized contributions came from people living in dozens of other states and as far away as South Korea.

Carla Howell, the question's champion and Libertarian Party gubernatorial candidate, defended the nationwide fund-raising appeal.

''Question 1 is a grassroots campaign funded by thousands of small donors who want small government,'' Howell said in a statement.

Opponents haven't formed a committee and are instead relying largely on media interviews. Michael Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayer's Foundation has appeared opposite Howell in televised forums.

''We didn't think we'd be able to raise sufficient funds to have the kind of media campaign to have a major impact,'' he said. ''You need to raise $500,000 to $1 million to have even a minimal impact.''

The future of the Clean Elections law is pitting corporate contributors against smaller donors.

The Common Cause Campaign for Clean Elections, which supports the question, has raised about $6,400 compared to $215,000 by the Coalition Against Taxpayer Funded Elections.

While the Common Cause donations are $250 or less, opponents have tapped corporate donations, including John Hancock Financial Services ($50,000), State Street Bank ($50,000), Fidelity Investments ($25,000), Gillette ($25,000) and the Flately Company ($25,000)

Fidelity spokesman Vin Loporchio said the state already has strong campaign laws and doesn't need the Clean Election law.

Tom Kiley, treasurer for the Coalition Against Taxpayer Funded Elections, said corporate donations make it easier to raise money quickly.

''It's almost always the case in Massachusetts that ballot questions are funded by the wealth of individuals or corporations,'' he said.

Kiley said he's asked House Speaker Thomas Finneran, D-Boston, to solicit donations. When asked if he has called corporations seeking donations, Finneran this week said: ''No, I don't make calls of that nature.''

Corporations are donating because the Clean Elections law threatens their influence on Beacon Hill, according to Massachusetts Common Cause director Pam Wilmot.

''Everyone has a political voice, but the corporations and big money donors have a front row seat with a megaphone and everyone else has to sit in the back and whisper,'' she said.

Campaign donations are typically used for a range of activities, from salaries and supplies to newspaper, radio and television advertising.

Businesses, out-of-state donors bankrolling ballot questions


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