The Reform That Makes All Other Reforms Possible

*Commentary

By Gail Jonas, Healdsburg


Campaign finance reform is getting attention. On the local level, the Healdsburg City Council recently passed a resolution setting limits on campaign contributions. On the federal level, the United States Supreme Court upheld most of the provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act, commonly known as McCain-Feingold, which closed a loophole in federal campaign finance law by prohibiting "soft money" contributions to political parties that were then funneled into federal campaigns.


Is limiting campaign contributions enough? Maine and Arizona don't think so. Both states have public funding of statewide office campaigns, allowing candidates to choose either public funds or continue to raise private funds. There's a nonpartisan nonprofit organization, the California Clean Money Campaign (CCMC), that doesn't think so either. In fact, all but eight states have or are working to implement voluntary public funding of some or all statewide offices.

Private financing of elections has led to giving disproportionate power and access to the wealthy, who gain access to our elected officials by making large contributions. Because candidates need to attract "special interest" money or be independently wealthy and willing to finance their own campaigns, people of modest means who want to be beholden to the voter rather than to campaign contributors have an extremely difficult time running for office. By giving candidates the opportunity to choose public funding rather than private funding, those who are succeed and are elected will owe their allegiance to voters rather than private interests.

Voluntary public funding of candidates is commonly described as the "reform that makes all other reforms possible." I have been very interested in the environment since I moved to Healdsburg 37 years ago. I'm not alone. The Pew Research Center for the Press and People nationwide poll (http://people-press.org) reports that more than 86 percent of those polled believe there needs to be stricter laws and regulations to protect the environment, yet so many of the decisions being made today by our elected officials are very damaging to our environment. If so many people want the environment protected, why is there a rollback of environmental protection regulations? There is ample evidence that special interest money (from energy and other industries that stand to gain financially from resource extraction) has a major influence on our decision makers. If you're curious, check www.opensecrets.org, a great source of "who gives" and "who gets." Rather than fight the decision makers every time they make a decision that is environmentally harmful, it seems like a far better use of my energy to work for a system that will give people who care about the environment a chance to win.

Of course, there are many other important issues that voters care about, and implementing a system which substitutes "one person, one vote" for "one dollar, one vote" will help bring about reforms in these areas as well.

In California, CCMC is currently working to educate the public about how voluntary public funding works. As a trained speaker for CCMC, I am making myself available to speak locally. If your service organization is interested in hearing more, please contact me at 433-6845 or gjonas@pon.net. Additionally, the public is invited to a presentation at 7 p.m. on January 14 at the Healdsburg Senior Center, 133 Matheson Street. More information about CCMC is available at www.caclean.org.

Gail Jonas is a Healdsburg resident.


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