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Mass. voters concerned about the influence of money in politics

Massachusetts voters are deeply concerned about the torrent of outside money flowing into state politics, a new Boston Globe poll finds.

Seven in 10 voters say television advertisements from super PACs — political action committees that can accept unlimited contributions from corporations, unions, and individuals — are “harmful” to the Bay State’s political debate.

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“Voters think the influx of money . . . is harming the political discourse in Massachusetts — and it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat, a Republican, or an independent,” said John Della Volpe, chief executive of SocialSphere Inc., which conducted the survey for the Globe.

The poll comes amid a surge in super PAC activity in Massachusetts politics.

Last year, outside spending played a significant role in the Senate contest between Democrat Edward J. Markey and Republican Gabriel E. Gomez. And organized labor dumped millions into super PACs supporting Martin J. Walsh for mayor of Boston.

This year, a super PAC backing Democrat Steve Grossman for governor and another supporting Republican front-runner Charlie Baker have spent heavily on television advertising. A third, funded by the Democratic Governors Association and several politically active unions, has reserved $3.1 million in advertising time between the Sept. 9 primaries and the Nov. 4 general election.

Mary Welch, a retired Boston teacher who participated in the Globe poll, supported Walsh in the mayor’s race and is backing Grossman in the governor’s contest. She said she is well aware that super PACs have lent significant support to her favored candidates. But Welch still objects to their presence in Massachusetts campaigns.

“I think they’re bad,” she said, in a followup interview after the survey. “I think it’s an unfair advantage for people and groups that have a lot of money to try and sway an election.”

The concern about super PACs and money in politics is a national phenomenon. Three-quarters of respondents to a CBS News poll in May said the wealthy have more of a chance to influence elections than other Americans. And 76 percent said unlimited spending by outside groups should be limited by law.

Of course, limiting that spending will be enormously difficult. The Supreme Court’s decision in the 2010 Citizens United case cleared the way for boundless spending by corporations and unions. But it did not touch limits on direct donations to candidates. In Massachusetts, individuals can give up to $500 to a state-level candidate. Come January, the limit will jump to $1,000.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents to the Globe poll said they support the $1,000 limit, while just 30 percent said individuals should be able to give as much as they wish to a candidate.

Poll respondent Andy Daitsman, a teacher from Walpole, supports the state’s contribution limit. If anything, he said, it’s too high.

Any system that gives a greater voice to the wealthy, said Daitsman, is problematic.

That sort of concern, the survey suggests, may be shrinking the pool of candidates for city council or the state Legislature. Just 10 percent of poll respondents believe Massachusetts’ campaign finance system encourages “people like you” to run for office, while 49 percent said it discourages ordinary people from waging campaigns.

The live poll of 605 likely voters, conducted Aug. 17-19 and Aug. 24-26, has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

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