Following Up on Some Issues

(A few developments on three posts from earlier this year: Baker’s welfare policy, Mass Fiscal’s disclosure policy, the SJC’s ruling on mandatory minimum sentences.)

Back in June, Governor Baker sought unsuccessfully to reduce state welfare payments to families in which a disabled family member was receiving federal disability payments. Under Baker’s plan, as the Herald reported, the state would no longer pay $400 per month to a grandmother who’s caring full time for her 13-year-old granddaughter who cannot walk or talk because of the cerebral palsy that she has had since birth. The cutoff of state funds Baker proposed would have left the family of two to survive on the $750 per month in federal disability payments the granddaughter receives.  The Legislature told the Governor no.

In August, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire struck down a welfare eligibility restriction in that state very similar to the rule Governor Baker wanted Massachusetts to adopt. The federal disability payments, the court ruled, were intended as specific assistance to persons with disabilities and were not intended to be available for the family’s general living expenses. One hopes that if the Legislature’s rejection of Baker’s proposal does not deter him from introducing it again, the New Hampshire Supreme Court decision will.

***

In August, after the Legislature passed a law requiring organizations that use direct mail for their electioneering to disclose the names of their five largest donors, just as organizations that use paid television, internet and print advertising must do, the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, purveyor of preposterous allegations about the voting records of its opponents, was left with a choice — either divulge the names of its five biggest donors, or curtail its electioneering.  They recently announced that they would keep their donors’ names secret, which means that their direct mail efforts this election season will not be indulging in their usual farcical claims but will merely encourage recipients to visit their website.  In an effort to portray this decision as a victory, Mass. Fiscal commented that it never wanted to become dull:  “We are always looking at ways to improve our effectiveness in communicating with the voters.”

***

In April, the Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments in a District Attorney’s appeal of a case in which the trial judge declined to impose the statutory minimum mandatory prison sentence for drug distribution on a disabled black man who had been convicted of possessing an amount of drugs weighing less than a five-gram packet of sugar.

Earlier this month, the court issued an opinion reversing the trial judge and ordering that the minimum mandatory sentence (3 1/2 years instead of the 2 1/2 years the trial judge ordered)  be imposed. But in that decision, the Court also sent a message to the Legislature that arguments about the unconstitutionality of mandatory minimums, such as the strong evidence of their racially discriminatory application during the twenty years that they have been on the books, might be appropriate for the court to consider in future cases.

Hey, Look: Scott Walker’s Coming to Town Tomorrow

It’s going to be a busy Monday for our friends at the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance. Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin and 2016 GOP Presidential candidate will be in town for a fundraiser.

The Mass Fiscal folks may have some of last year’s campaign debt still to retire. In 2014, they and an Independent Expenditure PAC called Jobs First spent quite a lot of money in direct mail efforts targeting 20 incumbent Democratic legislators for defeat. They sent out flyers charging that these lawmakers had taken many scandalously unpopular positions, such as favoring “illegal immigrants over military veterans.”

That this accusation was a distortion in the extreme did not go unnoticed in the press or, apparently, among voters, and 18 of the 20 legislators overcame whatever threat Mass. Fiscal’s “voter education” efforts may have posed, and they prevailed in their races. Nevertheless, the Democrats are feeling pretty sore about it all and will be holding an event to “expose the truth” about both Mass. Fiscal and Scott Walker at the State House at 1:00.

As it happens, Scott Walker’s views on immigration issues have been much in the news in the last week. Just as it was being reported that he had won the heart and mind of the Koch Brothers, which would pretty much guarantee him the Republican nomination, he began to talk about immigrants taking American jobs — a topic that worries his would-be patrons. The Koch Brothers prefer their candidates to adopt a relatively low profile on immigration policy, the better to emphasize the issues that are more important to their big business agenda, like crushing unions and denying climate change. (Speaking of denying climate change, a Wisconsin state agency voted earlier this month to prevent its staff from even discussing the topic.) Walker’s recent comments to the effect that our immigration policy ought to protect American workers and American wages is contrary to his past statements and to Koch Brothers “right-to-work” orthodoxy. It might also mean that Walker sees a need to pander to the nativist wing of his party.

So it would be interesting to see whether Scott Walker steers clear of this controversial subject altogether when he meets with the Mass. Fiscal faithful. I say “would be interesting” because of course the event is closed to those of us who do not pony up $500 to hear him. (Monday, 4/27 at 1:30 at the Union Club, 8 Park Street.)

Electioneering (I mean, public education) as practiced by Mass. Fiscal Alliance

I see that our friends at the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance have been crowing about getting under the skin of some state legislators, so I figured that they must be gearing up their “public education” activities for the election in November.

Sure enough, last week they sent out flyers in 20 state legislative districts to “target” (their word) the incumbent lawmakers in those districts. As a 501(c)(4) organization (that being the provision of the tax code under which they claim tax exempt status), Mass. Fiscal is permitted to advocate a particular point of view on an issue of public concern through lobbying and through what is called “public education.” (The law requires that public education be non-partisan, but does not require that it actually be educational.)

Mass. Fiscal’s flyer lists a number of votes the targeted lawmaker has taken in a way designed to cast him or her in the worst possible light. For example, the flyer states that the lawmaker “took the side of illegal immigrants over military veterans.” If this assertion strikes you as so inflammatory as to be implausible, you can find out more on the Mass. Fiscal website, where you can learn that a Mass. Fiscal favorite, Representative Geoff Diehl (R-Whitman), once proposed that “veterans be given priority over illegal immigrants for public housing.” This idea was, scandalously, defeated by a vote of 126 to 29. If you are inclined to think that Mass. Fiscal is a GOP front group, note that the vote was on pure party lines. The 20 targeted legislators, of course, all voted the “wrong” way.

Mass. Fiscal and its right-wing legislative and media allies (in this case, the Boston Herald) do a big business in creating alarm that public benefits might be going to the wrong people.

HeraldWelfareCover

The vote described as favoring illegal immigrants over veterans is only one of several of that same theme on the Mass. Fiscal scorecard. Not surprising, given the organization’s nativist roots. Mass. Fiscal got its start in 2012 by purchasing the corporate charter of a group called Empower Massachusetts, whose signature issue was voter fraud and Voter ID as the remedy for fraud. This Torch and Pitchfork Caucus has succeeded in spending no small amount of the Legislature’s time each year on the xenophobic causes the caucus favors.

Let’s look more closely at that vote on veterans. Here’s the text of what was voted on:

“Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, the executive office of housing and economic development shall require all recipients or any person seeking housing or assistance in any form, including vouchers, to provide a valid social security number and the housing agency is required to verify the number.”

Where’s the part about veterans, you’re asking? And a good question it is. The answer is that the bill being debated was entitled “An Act Relative to Veterans’ Allowances, Labor, Outreach, and Recognition.” In addition to being very pro-veteran, the bill was also very popular — it passed the House 155 to 0. And the vote that supposedly favored illegal immigrants over veterans? It was a vote ruling the amendment out of order because, as we just saw, it had absolutely nothing to do with the subject of the bill, which was veterans. I guess we should feel fortunate that the Legislature did not take up any bills dealing with other very sympathetic groups, like widows. Or puppies.

Mass. Fiscal’s response to the charge that its flyer is dishonest? They’re just presenting the actual voting records. “Don’t shoot the messenger,” they say.

Don’t shoot him, but do feel free to ignore him.