Massachusetts Speaker Stands Alone

The man with one of the most powerful seats in the state may find himself without a chair — literally.

House Speaker Tom Finneran refused to fund Massachusetts' clean election law, approved by voters in 1998, so a judge is forcing him to pay it with his own office furnishings in accordance with a state high court ruling.

The clean election law would provide public funding for candidates who would agree to spending limits. Finneran said the state, already facing the largest set of tax increases in a decade, can't afford it.

"This system would, as I say, forcibly extract money and just throw it willy-nilly at people, some of whom I find abhorrent," Finneran said.

This week, a judge ordered that 13 state-owned cars be seized and sold. The auction raised $176,000, but the state needs $85,000 more. Clean elections supporters say the money can come from selling off Finneran's office furniture to pay for the races.

"We have to look no further than the speaker's office to find furniture that would sell for a high amount of money and satisfy these judgements," said David Donnelly, director of the Massachusetts Voters for Clean Elections.

"This is the first time in the history of the country that a state has violated its own Constitution and forced the sale of its own state property," he said.

The chairman of the Joint Committee on Election Laws is siding with Finneran and taking a pre-emptive stand, so to speak.

"I said, 'Fine. If they want the furniture, they can have the furniture,' and I put them out in the hallway," said Rep. Joe Wagner.

But Wagner admits to having ulterior motives.

"I hope I get better furniture at the end of the day," he said.

If a judge allows the raiding of more state property, legislators might find themselves without a roof over their heads. The dome on the State House, after all, is made of gold.