Fair Campaign Financing is Doable

*System works in Arizona and it's the best way to restore faith in government.

By Assemblywoman Loni Hancock

Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham resigns his office and pleads guilty to accepting $2.4 million in bribes in exchange for influencing defense contract legislation. Jack Abramoff admits to conspiracy to bribe public officials. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his opponents spend more than $270 million in last year's special election. Special-interest money permeates our entire political system. And the people who elect us have noticed ...

A poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that voters have lost faith in their elected officials. Sixty-four percent of California's likely voters believe that campaign contributions have had a negative effect on public policy decisions made in Sacramento -- another 78 percent say that "the state government is run by a few big interests rather than the benefit of all the people."

There is a better way.

In Arizona, those same feelings led to a voter revolt. In 1998, Arizona adopted a "Clean Money" system that allows candidates to run for office without taking a single dime of special-interest money. Today, Clean Money is used equally by both Democrat and Republican candidates and has the support of reformers such as Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano and Republican Sen. John McCain.

In a public service announcement, McCain declared: "Clean Elections work well to overcome the influence of special interests. It gives Arizonans the power to create good government."

California now has the opportunity to enact a similar reform. Assembly Bill 583, approved by the state Assembly last week, will allow California's candidates the option of "running clean." Freed from endless fund raising, candidates would be able to spend their time talking to voters and focusing on the needs and concerns of the people in their district rather than the contributors to their campaign.

The Clean Money system in Arizona has withstood nine court challenges -- it has been upheld to be constitutional. The Clean Money system does not prevent millionaire candidates from running or forbid independent expenditures. Instead, the Clean Money system provides a dollar-for-dollar match to Clean Money candidates faced with independent expenditure campaigns against them or millionaire candidates who spend their own money. Matching funds provide a substantial disincentive for independent expenditures to be used at all, or for millionaire candidates to be recruited by the established political parties.

Clean Money opens the door for more politically diverse candidates to run for office. Since Arizona voters adopted Clean Money, the number of candidates in all races has gone up. Many of them say they would never run if Clean Money were not a choice for them. They want to work for the people, not spend their time dialing for dollars.

The success of Arizona's Clean Money system and its continued support by the citizens of Arizona and both Democrat and Republican candidates speaks to what is possible for restoring trust in government at the state level. In California, civic organizations such as the Common Cause and the League of Woman Voters have joined together to support AB 583 and to enact the Clean Money system to California.

We know the system works because it has already worked for eight years in Arizona. We know the need is great because we see the evidence of corruption and the loss of faith in our democracy.

Ultimately, this is about building the infrastructure of democracy. California needs a Clean Money system to restore the people's faith in government.

Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-El Cerrito, is the author of AB 583, the California Clean Money and Fair Elections Act of 2006. To find out more about AB 583, visit www.caclean.org or call 916-319-2014.


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