California Needs Clean Money Reform
CALIFORNIANS realize that the corrupting influence of huge sums of money on our election system threatens the democratic process, according to a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.
Seventy percent of the respondents believed that special interest groups control the political decisions made in California. Only 24 percent of the respondents trusted their government officials to represent their interests.
Fund raising for elections has become a crisis. Candidates need to raise ever-larger sums of money. Well-heeled donors contribute large amounts of money to state officials when bills related to their interests are considered.
Various laws enacted over the years to control fund-raising excesses have been ruled unconstitutional. Incumbent legislators and entrenched interest groups are reluctant to change a system that benefits them.
In contrast to California's failed attempts to address this issue, two states, Arizona and Maine, have adopted a system of public financing of elections that has shown promising results. It works this way:
-Candidates who agree to accept public funding must demonstrate a minimum level of support by gathering a set number of voter signatures and $5 contributions from a specific number of voters in their district.
-Each candidate receives money for his/her candidacy based on levels determined for each office. While the funding system is voluntary, efforts are made to create parity with privately funded candidates.
-Clean Money Candidates have the advantage of advertising themselves as free from special interest money.
-Candidates who raise corporate or private money have the burden of proving their allegiance to their constituencies, not to the big donors.
Voters have overwhelmingly supported Clean Money Candidates in both Arizona and Maine. As a consequence, both states have increased the diversity of their legislatures. More women and minorities have qualified for office as a result, and Maine has just recently passed a voluntary system of single-payer health insurance.
Arizona elected a moderate, reform-minded governor who ran as a clean candidate. Labor and conservative forces in both states, initially skeptical about the system, now endorse it.
Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, has recently introduced a bill, AB583, that would set up a clean money system of public election funding in California.
Formal hearings are scheduled this fall for public comment. A wide spectrum of grassroots support is growing in the state for this effort. The League of Women Voters supports this bill and will be mounting an effort to inform the public on this vital issue.
We urge all voters and disenchanted voters alike to learn more about this proposed legislation and to talk to their friends and neighbors about this proposal. We also need citizens to write to their legislators and ask them to support this desperately needed reform effort.
Judy Cox is former vice president of the Oakland League of Women Voters. Anne Spanier is a member of the board of the Oakland League of Women Voters.
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