Robert DeNiro once said, “You’ll have time to rest when you’re dead.” But surely the spirit of Barbara Anderson is restless these days.

Anderson, one of the state’s most impactful political activists from her perch as executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation (CLT), passed in 2016. Had she lived, she would be incensed about three events this month:

  • The end of her friend and former ballot-campaign sparring partner Jim Braude’s run as host of WGBH-TV’s nightly news show;
  • The failure of Gov. Charlie Baker’s effort to fulfill her dying wish for a pardon for Gerald Amirault and his sister Cheryl, who she believed had been unfairly convicted in a controversial 1980s child sexual abuse case;
  • And worst of all, the official demise of CLT, the group she steered for four decades. “The time has come to pass the tax limitation torch on to another generation,” said CLT Executive Director Chip Ford, who’s been keeping the group alive on a shoestring since decamping to Kentucky four years ago.

Braude will continue to co-host his popular GBH Radio show, but his step away from TV is the latest episode in the long-term deterioration of the region’s once-robust political media ecosphere.

Barbara’s advocacy for the Amiraults, sparked by evidence of gross manipulation of the very young alleged victims by prosecutors, was emblematic of her attraction to seemingly hopeless causes.

And as CLT finally dissolves, it’s unclear if that torch is being handed off to anyone capable of keeping its resistance to pro-tax pressure from becoming yet another lost cause.

Ford says he hopes the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance (MFA), a conservative non-profit that’s been turning out polls, lawsuits and literature attacking the tax-and-spend establishment for a decade, can fill the breach. He says he’s impressed with their “organizational ability” and “high-tech capacity.”

But he also says MFA lacks “institutional memory” and doesn’t “grasp the magnitude of a petition drive,” CLT’s signature technique for harnessing populist anti-tax backlash. That’s an understatement.

MFA filed a petition to put the gas-tax-hiking Transportation and Climate Initiative on the ballot but didn’t lift a finger to gather signatures. (TCI died for lack of political support late last year.) And the meager amount they donated to support the push for repeal of the law allowing non-citizens to get driver’s licenses left its proponents totally outspent down the stretch.

CLT was a legit grassroots operation – at its peak, a few business contributors and a bunch of small-dollar donors gave them a puny $250,000 budget to work with. A 2020 MFA federal tax filing reports $490,532 in contributions and grants, apparently not enough to buy a fraction of the visibility and clout Anderson once wielded.

And while Barbara and disciples Ford and the late Chip Faulkner wore their humble budgets and scant salaries as a badge of honor, MFA is a less-principled animal. According to records on file with the attorney general’s office, a separate nonprofit that funds MFA pocketed $109,424 in federal Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster loans during the pandemic, all forgiven in full. 

A nice, hypocritical windfall for a group that slammed “radical left-wing legislators” for promoting tax hikes while “not a single member of this progressive caucus has forgone a paycheck or any of their other perks during the pandemic.”

“I think Massachusetts is a hopeless cause,” says Ford. That’s bad news for Barbara Anderson’s legacy, not to mention all others who pale at the prospect of future tax hikes. As Cheri Reval, author of “Haunted Massachusetts,” once put it: “If the dead can’t rest in peace, how on Earth can the living?”

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Jon Keller has been reporting and commenting on local politics since 1978. A graduate of Brandeis University, he worked in radio as a producer and talk-show host before moving into print journalism at The Tab newspapers and the Boston Phoenix. Freelance credits include the Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Boston Magazine, the New Republic and the Washington Post. Since 1991 his "Keller At Large" commentaries and interviews have been a fixture on Boston TV, first on WLVI-TV and, since 2005, on WBZ-TV. He is a 12-time Emmy Award winner for political reporting and commentary. He began his Massterlist column in March 2020.