Boston Globe, November 2020
With nearly $43 million spent so far, the battle over expanding the state’s “Right to Repair” law has become the most expensive ballot initiative in Massachusetts history, stoking concerns that moneyed interests are overtaking a system designed to give everyday citizens a more direct voice in lawmaking. That historic level of spending, combined with the expensive effort to bring ranked-choice voting to Massachusetts through Question 2, could push the amount of money being wielded for initiative petitions to unprecedented levels this year.
Maurice T. Cunningham, a University of Massachusetts Boston political science professor who closely studies campaign financing, said his research found that of 20 ballot questions residents voted on between 2008 and 2018, the side that spent the most saw its position prevail 17 times. “The ideal of the ballot measure being a reflection of the will of the citizens is fading with almost every year as it becomes a battleground for big money interest groups,” Cunningham said.
Spending by the committees for and against Question 1, which has become a focal point in an automobile industry war, will undoubtedly rise. The $42.9 million the opposing sides have reported so far covers through Oct. 20, the most recent deadline, and new disclosures aren’t due until Thursday.
The bulging price tag, fueled by massive contributions from out of state, is part of a years-long trend within Massachusetts’ biennial ballot question fights, which have set some type of new spending record every election cycle since 2014. It’s also alarming lawmakers and others wary of the rising influence of money in state politics, particularly for a process designed to give voters a bigger megaphone in policy-making.