BOSTON, June 20 — The Massachusetts Legislature today repealed the state's Clean Elections Law, which has provoked political squabbling, court battles, a car auction and an imbroglio over state office furniture after voters approved it overwhelmingly in 1998.
The law died as part of a $22.3 billion compromise budget reached in a report by a legislative conference committee. The State Senate inserted the amendment to abolish the law on a voice vote last month.
Today's vote was structured so that supporters of the law would have had to vote against the entire budget, which restores Medicaid to 36,000 residents and continues a prescription drug program for the elderly. The House's vote was 118 to 37; the Senate's, 32 to 6.
Supporters of the law bitterly denounced the move.
"This action is just another outrageous attack on the democratic process by self-serving incumbents who have relentlessly attacked Clean Elections in order to insulate themselves from accountability and reform," M. A. Swedlund, chairman of Massachusetts Voters for Clean Elections, said in a statement.
Opponents in the Legislature, for whom the issue became intensely personal, argued that the law's demise was overdue.
"It is long past time that this issue is brought to closure," Representative Joseph F. Wagner, a Democrat, said, "and it has long been clear to me that the people of Massachusetts had no appetite for publicly funded political campaigns."
The law was developed as a mechanism for taxpayer money to finance campaigns for candidates who agreed to accept only contributions of $100 or less along with strict spending limits. Supporters said it would help fight what they described as a money-driven mentality in the legislature and pave the way for alternative candidates.
The battle over the law has at times been almost comical. In April 2002, after lawmakers refused to provide money for the program, a justice in the state's highest court, Martha B. Sosman, ordered the state to auction property for the program or repeal it. The state raised $176,000 from the sale of state cars and additional money from the sale of a closed state hospital.
Advocates of the law devised a plan to sell legislators' office furniture to raise money, notably the love seat of Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, a staunch opponent of the law, as well as desks, sofas and other furnishings of Salvatore F. DiMasi, the House majority leader, and Mr. Wagner, who was the House elections laws chairman until this year.
Mr. Wagner moved office belongings into a hallway for six months after lawyers for supporters of the law asked for a list of his furniture, and Mr. Finneran filed suit with the state's highest court to keep his furniture. Justice Sosman ruled in favor of the lawmaker, calling the maneuvering an "unseemly media circus."
Lawmakers agreed to finance the law in the last election cycle, bestowing $4 million to 12 Clean Elections candidates. They were outspent 23 to 1.
Arizona and Maine have legislative Clean Elections laws, while Vermont has one applicable only to candidates for governor. The Connecticut Legislature passed a Clean Elections bill in 2000, only to have it vetoed by Gov. John G. Rowland.
The fate of the Massachusetts law lies with Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican who has opposed it in the past and who has 10 days to veto the provisions of the budget. Mr. Romney has suggested that candidates, not taxpayers, fill Clean Elections coffers by earmarking 10 percent of the money they raise, a spokeswoman for the governor, Shawn Feddeman, said.
Today's action revived the system of public campaign financing, with taxpayers checking off a box on their income tax returns to note whether they would donate a part of any anticipated refund to candidates.
The governor "doesn't believe it makes sense to be throwing people off our Medicaid rolls while publicly financing political campaigns," Ms. Feddeman said.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company