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Grass-roots group aims to reform campaign finance



Recorder Staff
Sunday, September 11, 2016

When former Greenfield lawyer Bruce Berlin appeared at World Eye Bookshop last week to read from his new book about campaign finance reform, a standing-room-only crowd of 40 people showed up.

Now, a western Mass. chapter of a national organization working on the issue is planning a meeting at Green Fields Market on Tuesday from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

The organization, Represent Western Mass, is a chapter of the Northampton-based Represent.us. Although the chapter has existed for more than two years, most of its meetings have been in Northampton, said Reed Schimmelfing, a group spokesman. But it’s been trying to expand to include more Franklin and Hampden county members.

With support from Represent.us, which was founded by former Shelburne resident Josh Silver, the local support plans to call on the Greenfield Town Council and on other towns to pass resolutions calling on their state and federal legislators to pass the proposed “American Anti-Corruption Act,” targeting lobbyists’ political contributions, mandating full campaign finance transparency, allowing publicly funded campaigns, closes the “revolving door” between Congress and lobbyists and enhances the Federal Elections Commission’s powers.

A 2014 nonbinding voter referendum in state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg’s senatorial district gauging support for such legislation won with 84 percent of the vote. Only Orange (with 76 percent) Erving (with 78 percent) and Bernardston (with 18 percent) registered less than 80 percent support.

With more than 600,000 people around the country already endorsing the legislation, and with the western Mass. group’s current organizing efforts, Schimmelfing said, “Our hope and expectation is that there will be groundswell of this movement that floods the desks of legislators, and whether they’re inclined to think it’s a good idea or not, they are going to recognize that people who are going to mark their ballots in November are hot on this issue, so maybe they should pay attention and do something about it.”

This November, Represent.US is behind ballot measures in Washington state and South Dakota that would require transparency to reveal who’s paying for political advertising, create public campaign financing and limit campaign contributions and personal spending, while also strengthening enforcement of campaign finance laws.

It’s also working in San Francisco to put a proposition on the city’s election ballot to restrict lobbyist tactics.

Schimmelfing said the western Massachusetts group has only about 15 active members, with others who have come to meetings and then moved on. “I’d love to get that number at a meeting,” he said.

Anyone interested in the group is also welcome to contact members by email at RepWMa@gmail.com or by phone or text at 413-588-2036.

Schimmelfing said, “We recognize that people who are in office are under a lot of pressure to not do anything about (the issue) because it would turn off the spigot they’ve come to depend on, so working from the bottom up is the way to make that happen.”