Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate whose near-qualification for millions of dollars in Clean Elections money has been a giant headache for Democrats in the governor's race, may have a headache of her own.
She might not get those public funds after all.
Chiefly because of organizational problems in her campaign, Stein will probably fall short of the 6,000 certified small contributions she is required to submit to qualify for the public funds, state officials say.
This is a very disorganized type of campaign we're trying to run, to be close to the grass roots, and the spirit of law should be tolerant towards that.
Stein's campaign chairman
At the 5 p.m. deadline yesterday, the campaign had submitted only 5,666 certified contribution forms to the office of campaign and political finance. Each form records a contribution of between $5 and $100 by a registered voter.
Hundreds of other qualifying contribution forms were still in city and town halls across the state, said John Andrews, Stein's campaign chairman. Volunteers dropped them off weeks ago to be certified by municipal officials in 351 cities and towns across the state, but some failed to retrieve them. Campaigns are required to pick up the forms in their cities and towns, and bring them to Boston.
Campaign officials attribute their predicament to the difficulty municipalities are having implementing the campaign finance reform law approved by voters in 1998.
''Not all of them were picked up in part because we had misinformation from cities and towns,'' Stein said. ''There are lots of loose ends in the protocols. There should be procedures in place that are friendly to grass-roots campaigns without big money, resources, and infrastructure. We found ourselves really stretched as a grass-roots organization, trying to interact with 351 cities and towns.''
Green Party gubernatorial candidate Jill Stein, stands outside her campaign headquarters in Somerville, Mass., Wednesday, May 29, 2002. (AP Photo/Michael Manning)
On Monday, an army of Stein's volunteers began a mad dash to retrieve about 1,000 missing donation forms, criss-crossing the state from Williamstown and West Stockbridge to Buzzards Bay and Martha's Vineyard. But even after that, Stein's certified contributions fell short of the mark set by the Clean Elections law when she turned them over to campaign finance officials yesterday.
''This is the first time the Clean Elections law has been exercised,'' Andrews said. ''This is new for town halls, and new for our people, too, who are involved in a political campaign for first time. This is a very disorganized type of campaign we're trying to run, to be close to the grass roots, and the spirit of law should be tolerant towards that.''
Former state senator and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Warren Tolman managed to qualify for Clean Elections funds months ago, long before the deadline yesterday. But that was because he had a solid infrastructure and plenty of staffers to navigate the municipal bureaucracies, Stein said.
Andrews and Stein will appeal to campaign finance officials for consideration of the missing forms. But a spokesman for the Office of Campaign and Political Finance said yesterday that the law leaves little room for leniency.
''The Clean Elections Law sets forth an involved process for qualifying for public funds,'' said Denis Kennedy. ''When you're talking about public funds, it is not a stretch to say you need to have a clear process and a threshold in order to qualify. It is any applicant's responsibility to submit the required material with us.''
Kennedy's office has seven working days to deliver an official decision on whether Stein has qualified for Clean Elections money. He said elections officials would look at all the forms Stein says were rejected in error by city officials, and the 132 her campaign says were sent back to her without validation or rejection.
If the Stein campaign can make a case that mismanagement and errors by town clerks led to the short contribution tally, she may qualify for the funds, though it may take a trip to the Supreme Judicial Court to do so.
''The standard that gets applied to any campaign seeking to participate in the Clean Elections Law needs to be one applied equally across the Commonwealth, in every town and every city,'' said John Bonifaz, director of the National Voting Rights Institute. ''If there are some towns where there is more cooperation and some where there is less, that raises a serious concern, particularly if this affects whether or not this particular candidate gets certified.''
Were she to qualify, Stein could receive as much as $3.4 million in taxpayer money for her gubernatorial campaign. A vigorous campaign by the Greens could siphon liberal votes from the Democratic nominee in what is expected to be a close battle with Republican Mitt Romney.
Stein was not ready to give up. Arriving at the office of campaign finance with a dozen volunteers yesterday, she was bleary-eyed from having stayed up all night helping workers scramble to gather the contribution forms. ''We're still here,'' she said.
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