Time to Integrate the State Government Bus

By Rev. John Hunter and Paul Turner

This past year the nation remembered Rosa Parks who initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott through her act of defiance in refusing to give up her seat and moving to the back of the bus. Imagine if following the Montgomery bus boycott the bus company initiated a colorblind fare structure whereby it would cost $5 to sit in the front of the bus. Poor and working class African-Americans, and whites, would be unable to afford to ride in the front. The front of the bus would essentially be reserved for wealthy, white business men and the very few citizens who could afford to pay the fare. That in a nutshell describes our current campaign finance system.

Today’s campaign finance system is essentially a modern-day poll tax that prices out minorities and the poor from participating in election campaigns. Campaign contributions, like poll taxes, are unaffordable for most poor and working class citizens. The meteoric rise of campaign fundraising has created a barrier to full and equal participation in the democratic process for those who cannot afford the “pay to play†system. Basically our democracy is corrupted by the influence of money and further compels good people to be caught up in a crooked system.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was suppose to end the linkage between wealth and access to the polls. Yet, the bus of state government is severely segregated with well-financed lobbyists and wealthy donors in the front, while minorities and the poor are relegated to second class participants in the back.

In California we have an opportunity to build on the legacy of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. by integrating all citizens in the political process regardless of wealth or income. Assemblymember Loni Hancock has introduced AB583, a campaign finance reform bill that is in essence a civil rights bill that will restore equal participation in politics by allowing a voluntary system of full public financing of election campaigns, also known as “California Clean Money and Fair Elections Actâ€. The bill will make it possible for citizens with a call to public service to mount competitive campaigns with public money. Arizona and Maine already have such a system. The Governor of Arizona was elected with public money as well as 36% of the Arizona legislature. In Arizona more minorities and women ran for office, and were elected. Minority turnout also increased. The Connecticut legislature just recently passed a bill establishing a Clean Money system.

Full public funding of election campaigns will provide a level playing field of competition for those who lack wealth, wealthy friends or want to remain free from corporate influence. Since it’s voluntary, candidates agree to limit their spending and agree not accept private or corporate contributions. Clean Money has demonstrated to be fiscally sound and practical.

By Rev. John Hunter, Pastor, First AME Church, Los Angeles
Paul Turner, National Director, Claiming Our Democracy Program, The Greenlining Institute

See the article on California Progress Report website

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