Judge Orders Sale of Mass. State Property to Pay 'Clean Elections' Candidates

A Massachusetts judge has ordered the state to sell property that could include land, furniture and even historic artifacts to help pay for the campaigns of candidates who agree to limit spending and fund-raising.

In a sternly worded rebuke, Supreme Judicial Court Justice Martha Sosman accused the Legislature of "bad faith" by failing to act after a January ruling found they must either fund the Clean Elections law or repeal it.

"The Legislature stands in blatant and flagrant violation of a clear constitutional mandate," Sosman wrote in Friday's ruling. "The Legislature has, for whatever reason, chosen to respond to this 'constitutional crisis' with brinkmanship rather than statesmanship."

Under the Clean Elections law, passed overwhelmingly by voters in 1998, public money is provided to candidates who agree to limit spending and fund-raising. The Legislature has set aside $23 million for Clean Elections, but has refused to release the money.

The state currently owes Clean Elections candidates about $250,000, but the price tag could run into the millions if other candidates decide to run, activists say.

Sosman said new property must be auctioned within 30 days each time new claims are made against the fund. Selling state property at "distress sale prices" is regrettable but unavoidable given lawmakers' lack of action, Sosman said.

"This unquestionably inflicts needless damage on the commonwealth," Sosman wrote. "However ... the only way to break this impasse is to let the auctioneer's hammer fall again and again."

A spokesman for House Speaker Thomas Finneran, a vocal critic of the law, refused comment Friday. Finneran, a Democrat, has said the money would be better spent on other state programs, particularly during the current fiscal crisis.

By law, those who are owed money can choose which property should be auctioned.

The attorney general's office promised to come up with a suggested list of property within two days of a ruling, according to John Bonifaz, a Clean Elections lawyer.