Audit-the-Legislature campaign claims signature success

State Auditor Diana DiZoglio

State Auditor Diana DiZoglio STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

By CHRIS LISINSKI

State House News Service

Published: 11-22-2023 12:05 PM

Auditor Diana DiZoglio and her hodgepodge of political allies took a major step toward asking voters for the authority to probe the Legislature, announcing that they gathered enough signatures to remain on track for a 2024 ballot question.

The ballot question campaign backed by DiZoglio said Tuesday that it collected signatures from more than 100,000 registered voters, significantly more than the 74,574 certified signatures that need to be filed with local election officials by the end of the day Wednesday.

Local officials and Secretary of State William Galvin will still need to certify the signatures before the measure advances to the next phase, but the campaign’s announcement reflects confidence among organizers that they have cleared a hurdle that fells many initiative petitions every cycle.

“Our campaign resonates with the people of Massachusetts because they want our leaders to fix the numerous, simultaneous crises our Commonwealth is facing – whether that’s in housing, healthcare, transportation, mental health, addiction or others,” DiZoglio said in a statement circulated by the ballot question campaign. “Beacon Hill cannot continue its closed-door, opaque operations with so much at stake. I’m so thankful to every single supporter for helping to make this vision a reality. We are demonstrating that by coming together — regardless of family background, bank balance, zip code or political party — we can accomplish great things for a common good.”

Asking voters to explicitly empower her proposed audit of the Legislature, where she previously served, looms as perhaps the only route remaining for DiZoglio to follow through on her bid.

Top Democrats in both branches have resisted her audit attempts, arguing that it would violate the constitutional separation of powers, and Attorney General Andrea Campbell this month concluded existing law “does not allow an audit of the Legislature over its objection.”

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The Senate’s legal counsel, James DiTullio, previously wrote to Campbell and asked her to deem the proposed ballot question unconstitutional, arguing that it should have been filed not as a proposed new law but as a proposed constitutional amendment.

While legislative leaders have been unwavering in their opposition, DiZoglio’s effort has woven together an unusual constellation of support including government watchdog and transparency groups on both the right and the left.

The Boston Globe reported Tuesday that the ballot question campaign has raised about $250,000, including donations from GOP donors such as Rick Green and Ernie Boch Jr. as well as Democrat donors. Last week, the Democratic State Committee unanimously adopted a resolution supporting DiZoglio’s effort to hold the Legislature accountable.

DiZoglio has also steered at least $105,000 from her own campaign account to the nascent ballot question campaign, according to Office of Campaign and Political Finance records.

The Committee for a Transparent Democracy, chaired by longtime political operative Doug Rubin, also argues that its proposal is popular among voters. A UMass Amherst/WCVB poll of 700 Massachusetts residents in mid-October found two-thirds would vote yes on a ballot question allowing the state auditor “to assess the performance of the state legislature and recommend ways to improve the state legislature.” Only 7% said they would vote no.

Once election officials certify a sufficient number of signatures were submitted, proposed ballot questions will be sent to the Legislature in January, where lawmakers will get until May 1, 2024 to approve each measure, propose substitutes or take no action. If the Legislature does not act, campaigns each need to collect at least 12,429 more signatures by June 19, 2024 to make it onto the November ballot.

At least four campaigns have already claimed success at gathering enough signatures ahead of the Wednesday deadline: DiZoglio’s audit, a Massachusetts Teachers Association proposal to eliminate the use of MCAS as a graduation requirement, a bid to scrap the state’s separate minimum wage for tipped workers, and a labor-backed effort to allow Uber and Lyft drivers to unionize.