Special Election Demonstrates Need for "Clean Money" Campaigns

By Susan Lerner

Will California be able to enact Clean Money full public financing of elections without convicting a governor of campaign fraud? In 1997, Arizona's then governor, Fyfe Symington admitted breaking Arizona's election-finance campaign laws and was convicted of bank and mail fraud. A
year later, Arizona's voters passed a Clean Money full public financing of elections initiative. In 2004, Connecticut's then-governor, John Rowland, was imprisoned for campaign corruption and fraud. This month, Connecticut's replacement governor, Republican Jodi Rell, signed a Clean Money bill passed by that state's Democratic legislature into law. Maine's voters, ever contrarian, passed Clean Money without a major campaign funding scandal.

California's recent governors, of course, have had their own problems. Gov. Gray Davis lost his office largely because of voters' anger at his fund-raising. Governor Schwarzenegger has seen his popularity and status plummet as a result of the amount of money raised in the recent Special Election campaign. Only the Legislature itself is less popular, as recent polling by the Public Policy Institute of California showed. These politicians need help. And they know it.

In the wake of the Special Election, it seems like everyone has a new "reform" package that they are planning. Amid all the discussions of whether it's 2 from column A or 3 from column B in a new and improved redistricting plan and whether it's politically feasible to fix term limits
or mend the initiative process, I believe that it's too easy to be caught up with insiders' wish lists and miss the main point.

What the Governor and the Legislature need is a measure proven to help restore voter confidence in elected officials and that's Clean Money.

Already working well in Arizona and Maine, Clean Money is an innovative yet practical way of increasing government accountability and ending the problem of campaign donations that raise pay-to-play concerns. Rather than soliciting private donations from sources that likely will want favors down the road, Clean Money candidates run for office using public funds.

Consequently, those candidates take office beholden to the voters, instead of major donors. In Arizona, both elected officials and the voters both like the changes which public funding of elections has created. Janet Napolitano, Arizona's Democratic governor, was "cleanly" elected and is a strong supporter of the system, as is U.S. Senator John McCain. Public polls
in Arizona consistently show approval ratings of over two-thirds for their public funding system.

Here in California, voters are ready for a change. 78% of voters polled by the PPIC in November think a few big interests run their state government. PPIC polling before the special election showed that voter support for Clean Money has risen dramatically.

Support for Clean Money is increasing in the Legislature as well. New co-authors continue to sign on to AB 583, the California Clean Money and Fair Elections Act authored by Assemblywomen Loni Hancock of Berkeley, including some who opposed its progress in the last legislative session. It looks like many elected officials are just as fed-up with the endless
campaign fund-raising as the voters.

After all, they're the ones who have to spend countless hours "dialing for dollars." Sometimes it seems as if our current campaign system resembles a day at the dog track, with a pack chasing the elusive mechanical rabbit, rather than an exchange of ideas for making Californians' lives better. I still believe that public servants want to put the "public" back in public policy, that people run for office because they want to make a difference, not just win the fund-raiser of the year award. It's that belief which bolsters for the Clean Money system.

There are a lot of interesting proposals for change in Sacramento being discussed and various different ways of combining them. But any package of reform proposals that doesn't include Clean Money will not be giving the people what they want and deserve: responsive, effective government made up of elected officials solely dedicated to adopting measures that will benefit all Californians.

Susan Lerner is executive director of the Los Angeles-based California Clean Money Campaign, which advocates public financing of political campaigns.

See the article on Capitol Weekly website

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

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