THE DIRECTOR of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance is planning to step down sometime in the next nine months, creating a vacancy that prompted the House to change the way his replacement would be selected.
Rep. John Lawn Jr., the House chair of the Legislature’s Election Laws Committee, said Michael Sullivan has made it known that he will be retiring at the end of the year. Sullivan, who has served as director for 25 years and whose current term ends in 2024, said he intends to step down sometime this fiscal year, which ends on June 30, 2020.
Lawn said Sullivan’s decision prompted a review of the procedure for selecting a replacement, and that review led to the conclusion that the process was outdated and needed improvement. There was no public discussion of how to improve the process; the committee reported out a bill with a new approach on September 16 and the House approved it on Wednesday.
“Times have changed and we thought it was time to look at it,” Lawn said.
The current selection process for the director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance requires a unanimous vote of the secretary of state, the two chairs of the Democratic and Republican state committees, and the dean of a law school chosen by the governor.
Lawn said that process is flawed. He said it’s not clear why the state party chairs or a law school dean are involved. He noted the dean’s positon has been vacant for 10 years. He said the unanimous vote requirement could lead to a political stalemate if one members refuses to go along with the others. And he said he thought it was important that people subject to the campaign finance law pick the director.
The proposal that passed the House on Wednesday would create a five-member commission of elected officials. The governor, the attorney general, and the secretary of state would be members and they would select the other two – elected municipal and county officials. No more than three of the members could be from the same party (any party, including unenrolled, so there is no guarantee a Republican would be included) and four votes would be needed to name a new director.
During debate on the legislation, GOP lawmakers attacked the measure as a partisan attempt to oust Republicans from the selection process, in particular Jim Lyons, a conservative and Trump supporter who heads the Republican state committee.
Lawn said the revamped selection process had nothing to do with Lyons or removing Republicans from the selection process. “What we did [on Wednesday] guarantees a Republican is on the selection process for the next director,” Lawn said, referring to Gov. Charlie Baker.
Baker, however, took a longer-term view of the change. He said he welcomed other reforms included in the bill but was “deeply concerned” about the House’s new approach on selecting a new director, according to State House News.
“Like many other Republicans, I am deeply concerned that the way this thing is being set up can be implemented in such a way that the Republican Party, which has many members in the House and many members in the Senate and currently has one, two statewide office holders, would be shut out completely from the process and I think that’s a problem,” Baker said.