In what could be a major blow to Democrats' hopes of regaining the governor's office, Green Party gubernatorial candidate Jill Stein is on the verge of qualifying to receive up to $3.4 million in taxpayer-funded Clean Election campaign funds.
Massachusetts Green Party chairman John Andrews said yesterday that Stein and her supporters have submitted records to city and town clerks documenting that she has collected approximately 6,800 small campaign donations. A candidate needs 6,000 such donations to receive public financing, and so far, Andrews said, clerks are certifying the donations at a rate of 95 percent.
Green Party gubernatorial candidate Jill Stein, stands outside her campaign headquarters in Somerville, Mass., Wednesday, May 29, 2002. Stein is on the verge of qualifying for as much as $3.4 million in public campaign funds, which may complicate the prospects of Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial candidates. (AP Photo/Michael Manning)
If that pattern holds, Stein would become the first third-party candidate to receive taxpayer funds to run for political office.
''Barring some surprise, we are going to qualify,'' Andrews said.
The use of public funds to support Stein's candidacy could further inflame the controversy over the Clean Elections system in Massachusetts. At a time of budget cuts and shrinking resources, the prospect of a Green Party candidate collecting millions of dollars for a bid for the state's top office could incense critics of the law, who question the wisdom of using public money for political campaigns.
Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Warren Tolman is the only statewide candidate yet to receive public funds for his campaign.
Under the law, Stein would be eligible to receive an initial check for $811,050 from the publicly financed system. She would get another $1.1 million for the general election. If another candidate, as expected, spends more than that during the general election, she can receive up to $1.5 million more - or as much as a total of $3.4 million.
Of course, Clean Elections candidates face hurdles and delays collecting money. With the Legislature refusing to appropriate the money, candidates now must appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court for a judgment against the state for the campaign money. The court has cleared the way for the auction of state property to raise money for the Clean Elections fund. Auctions of state land are scheduled for late June to generate funding.
The potential threat posed by the Green Party in the governor's race is rattling Democrats as they prepare to gather for their state party convention in Worcester this weekend. Democrats fear the loss of a significant number of liberal voters in November. In a close contest with Republican Mitt Romney, those Stein votes could spell defeat for the Democratic nominee. Some Democrats blame Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader for costing Democrat Al Gore the 2000 presidential election.
''It is an outrage,'' said Philip W. Johnston, the Democrats' state party chairman. ''This will significantly damage our chances in November. A vote for Stein is a vote for Romney.''
To be sure, Romney faces problems from his right, where Libertarian Party nominee Carla Howell will be raiding the Republican and conservative base that he needs to hold to defeat a Democrat. But, because Libertarians advocate shrinking the government's role in society, Howell and her ticket are rejecting public campaign funds and are not expected to have anywhere near the financial resources to cut into the Republican base as Stein, with the public funding, will have to draw from Democrats.
Stein and the Green Party offer a strong appeal to left-leaning Massachusetts voters. They are strong advocates for universal health care and environmental policies and ''green technologies.'' They favor gay marriage and oppose requiring high school students to pass MCAS tests to graduate. The party says it wants to ''replace corporate power with voter power.'' The party gained official status after the 2000 election, when Nader drew more than 3 percent of the vote here.
Andrews rejected the Democrats' complaints that the Green Party would split the liberal vote and ensure a Republican victory.
''We understand the Democrats will be unnerved by having more competition, but we think more competition is good,'' Andrews said. ''We reject the idea that progressive values are harmed by having two vigorous progressive parties.''
Johnston says the Clean Elections law, which he supported when voters approved it in a 1998 ballot referendum, was not designed to fund what he said are ''marginal parties.''
''I say this as a supporter of Clean Elections, but marginal parties should not be part of this,'' Johnston said. ''Clean Election proponents cut a deal with the devil during the past couple of years aligning themselves with the Green Party.''
Stein, a Lexington physician, has not run for office before.
''This law does not support or discriminate against any party or candidate,'' said David Donnelly, director of Mass Voters for Clean Elections. ''It doesn't matter what your political stripes are, if you raise 6,000 individual contributions then you are entitled to the public funds under this law. That is what the voters approved.''
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company