Clean Money for a Clean Environment

By Bill Magavern and Trent Lange

With political corruption scandals bursting out everywhere from San Diego to Texas to Washington, D.C., Californians now have a real opportunity to turn the tables on polluters and developers by weakening the dominance of big money campaign contributors. AB 583, the California Clean Money and Fair Elections Act, is the best hope in years for a fundamental change that would finally give the environment a more level playing field in Sacramento. To the surprise of many, Assemblymember Loni Hancock’s bill has already passed the State Assembly; now it needs the approval of the Senate and Governor before it can be put on the ballot for a vote of the people.

You know the problem: Environmentalists are frequently up against developers and corporations that contribute millions of dollars to political campaigns. Environmentally-friendly candidates often can't get elected because they don't have enough money to compete against corporate-backed candidates.

In Sacramento, good environmental bills are often killed by legislators or a governor that have received large campaign contributions from the polluters or developers we're fighting -- sometimes the very same day they kill our bills.

Clean Money public funding of election campaigns would drain the swamp of corruption by providing competitive amounts of public campaign funds to candidates who voluntarily limit their campaign spending and show a broad base of support. In cases where non-participating candidates or attack ads by outside groups exceed Clean Money expenditure limits, additional public funds are provided to Clean Money candidates so that they always have a level playing field.

Arizona and Maine, where Clean Money systems have been operating for six years, have proven it works. Voters' choices increased, as more qualified candidates, especially women and minorities, were able to run for office. Clean Money candidates now hold nearly 80% of the legislature in Maine and 10 out of 11 statewide offices in Arizona, including the governor's office. Voter turnout and participation has increased significantly as confidence in government has risen.

Not surprisingly, legislators elected with Clean Money in Arizona and Maine have much better environmental voting records than legislators elected with private money. Legislators in Maine who used Clean Money scored nearly twice as high on the League of Conservation Voters scorecard as those who did not.

We need the same reform in California. If passed, AB 583 would put a similar full Clean Money system on the ballot, giving voters a historic chance to change the system. The bill is now in the State Senate, where big money opponents will desperately try to stop a reform they know will make politicians accountable to the voters instead of to them. We can't let them stop it. Californians need to demand this sweeping reform â€" a reform that will finally let the voters â€" and their concern about the environment â€" take control of politics.

If we want clean air and clean water, we have to have Clean Money. That's why Sierra Club California strongly endorses AB 583, and urges you to help us pass it.

Take action by writing and calling Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata and your own Senator to urge them to support AB 583. Go to to use its easy online letter-writing and faxing tool, sign the petition, and get calling information.


Bill Magavern is the senior representative for Sierra Club California.

Trent Lange is the Vice President of the California Clean Money Campaign and a longtime Sierra Club member.

See the article on Sierra Club California 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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