Clean Money, Clean Elections For California
Political Common Sense
[image1_right]The deluge of special-interest money in politics has put the lie to our founding fathers' promise of a government "by and for" the people. Too often, special-interest money buys the candidates and controls the political agenda. It's time for that to change.
What chance do honest candidates without money have to be elected in California? Not much. Not if they don't want to accept money from special interests.
What chance do citizens have of voting for politicians who aren't wealthy or tied to special interests? Not much, either.
Sadly, no matter how qualified candidates may be, if they don't have money themselves or accept it from private interests, they don't really stand a fighting chance in California.
Not in a state in which $130 million was spent by Gov. Gray Davis, Bill Simon and the other contenders in the 2002 governor's race. Not in a state in which lobbyists looking for budget favors ply legislators with piles of $1,000 checks at hundreds of campaign fund-raisers.
Ours is now a government of big money special interests, not a government of the people. Is it any wonder ordinary citizens feel their voices aren't heard? Is it any wonder our state and country are in such a mess?
Arizona and Maine are different. Their citizens got fed up with politicians chasing after special-interest money and then voting in their favor. So they reclaimed their democracy.
Both states now have "clean money, clean elections" systems in which qualified candidates may run for office using public financing. That gives all candidates a fighting chance to win. It also gives citizens a chance to vote for candidates who don't owe their campaign funds to big private interests.
How does it work? "Clean" candidates who qualify in Arizona and Maine receive enough public financing to run viable campaigns. If privately funded candidates outspend them, they receive extra public funding to match, up to a limit. They qualify by gathering a set number of individual $5 contributions and agreeing not to accept any private money.
It's a resounding success for both candidates and voters.
In 2002, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano became the first publicly financed governor ever elected. "Clean" candidates won seven out of nine statewide offices. More than a third of Arizona's legislature is made up of members elected "clean." None of them received a dime from big private interests to run their campaigns.
Voters also had more choices at the polls. More than 60 percent more candidates ran for statewide office than in 1998, the last nonpresidential election year without clean money. The number of minority candidates tripled.
In response, voter turnout increased more than 10 percent. The Arizona public supports clean money more than ever, with overwhelming 66 percent support in a June 2002 poll. Leah Landrum, a member of Arizona's House of Representatives, sums it up: "Now the only interests I'm tied to are my constituents. And they feel a lot more connected to me. My constituent calls have tripled."
The story is just as compelling in Maine. Today, 55 percent of the legislators in Maine's House of Representatives and 77 percent in its Senate were elected only with public funding.
Arizona and Maine show how it can be done. Both states passed clean money initiatives after a lot of research, coalition building and grassroots organizing. Public education campaigns spoke directly with citizens in countless forums and explained plainly how clean money would strengthen their voices. These efforts laid the groundwork for their initiatives' successes.
Now it's California's turn. We too deserve a government that's more responsive to its citizens than to big-money special interests. Perhaps it is time for California voters to follow suit with their own ballot initiative for public funding of qualifying candidates. We, too, can restore our lost democracy by electing candidates to public office who owe their allegiance to voters rather than to private interests.
Edward Asner will speak on the topic of "clean money" campaign reform.
What: Address entitled "Taking back our lost democratic values"
When: Tuesday, 6 p.m.
Where: Commonwealth Club, 595 Market, 2nd floor, San Francisco
Admission: $9 for members, $15 for nonmembers
Edward Asner is an actor/political activist and serves on the Advisory Board of California Clean Money Campaign (www.CaliforniaCleanMoney.org).
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