Running for office takes a lot of money, which prevents many qualified, dedicated individuals from running. Because elected officials need to raise so much money to run, and to be re-elected, they not only have less time to do their job of representing the people because of the need to fundraise, they all too often end up representing the interests of a few funders rather than the majority of their constituents. A system of Clean Elections that would provide public funding to level the playing field and impose spending limits would allow any qualified individual interested in serving the public the opportunity to do so. Officials would truly be elected by and accountable to the people, and be able to dedicate their time to fully serving their interests. By doing this, quite simply, Clean Elections will help to make all other political reforms possible. Campaign finance reform is an issue we're currently studying.
Problems with the Current System
Quite simply, there are 3 major problems with the current system of privately-funded campaigns.
- The $10,000, $25,000 or more that it can take to run a successful campaign in local and state races prevents many qualified, dedicated individuals from running. Without a large bank accounts or scores of wealthy friends, most of us are virtually prevented from opening the door of public service.
- Second, because office-holders remain dependent upon their wealthy funders to pay for their campaigns for re-election, elected officials are pressured – quite successfully – to represent the interests of a few funders rather than the majority interests of their constituents. The result: most reforms a majority of Americans strongly desire – in such crucial areas as healthcare, energy alternatives, education, jobs and wages, transportation, and housing – will remain unattainable until we reduce the power of large wealthy interests (“Big Money”) in the political system.
- Elected officials are forced to spend a great deal of time chasing dollars to fund their re-election campaigns. By forcing politicians constantly to “dial for dollars” simply to retain their seats, the private financing system affords them less time to do their jobs: representing everyday people.
The Answer: Clean Elections
“Clean Elections” provide public funding to viable candidates to run, “levelling the playing field” by standardizing the amount of money each candidate uses to run for office. In most cases, public funds are made available to candidates who can prove their viability by raising a modest number of small-dollar (i.e. $5 to $50) donations. These donations can be used in addition to public funds or they may be matched by a public grant. Contributions from corporations, PAC’s, and even individuals can be capped to reduce the ability for any interest unduly to influence any candidate for, or in, office. Most states require that candidates who use public financing sign a voluntary pledge to adhere to pre-determined campaign spending limits.
Why Clean Elections Work
Clean Elections help to make all other reforms possible. Elected officials who run “clean” act on behalf of their constituents at large, rather than for a few wealthy donors. Arizona offers Clean Elections, through which its governor, Janet Napolitano, was elected. On the same day she was sworn into office, she issued an executive order establishing prescription drug subsidies for seniors. In a speech later that year, she said, “If I had not run Clean, I would surely have been paid visits by numerous campaign contributors representing pharmaceutical interests and the like, urging me either to shelve that idea or to create it in their image. All the while, they would be wielding the implied threat to yank their support and shop for an opponent in four years.”
Clean Elections allow new candidates to run for office. In 2006, 84% of Maine’s legislators were elected in Clean Elections, and 98% of the state’s participating candidates reported being satisfied with Clean Elections overall. 87% of first-time candidates credited public funding as an important factor in their decision to run.
Clean Elections promote Diversity. North Carolina provides public financing for top judicial races. In 2006 four of the publicly financed winners were women and one was African American. In Arizona, another Clean Elections state like Maine, eight people of color in the legislature ran using public financing.
Clean Elections Increase Voter Participation. While many factors affect voter turnout, Clean Elections increase competition and bring new candidates into the system, which encourages people to come out and vote. Maine, for instance, turned out a record high of 74% of voters in 2004, a year that 77% of candidates ran as Clean Election candidates. Clean Elections and their small-dollar contributions have also made it possible for thousands of voters to make meaningful campaign contributions. In 2002, 30,000 Maine voters make $5 contributions, increasing the number of private campaign contributions from previous years fivefold.
Where They Already Work in the Heartland
In the Heartland, Minnesota already offers partial funding for state races. Contributions from individuals are restricted to $100 - $500, depending on the race, which has allowed for thousands of Minnesotans to give contribute meaningfully to campaigns. In 2004, almost 14,000 individual donations between $100 and $500 were given to candidates and committees; that number rose to more than 23,000 just two years later in 2006.
Gregory Gray ran Clean for a seat in the Minnesota State House in North Minneapolis, a low-income, Africa American district. “Without public financing in Minnesota, I would have been very hard pressed to raise the dollars I need [to win] in a very poor district.”
How Clean Elections are Paid For
Clean Elections can be financed in a variety of ways, many of which won’t require any increase in taxes. The states that currently use it allow taxpayers to check a box on their annual tax returns to designate a set amount – usually only a few dollars – of their tax dollars for public financing, making participation completely voluntary. States may also supplement such a fund with an allocation from the general fund.
Heartland Values – Why Clean Elections Matter to You
- All dedicated, qualified individuals should have the opportunity to serve the public by running for and serving in office.
- Representation and power should not be for sale, either through favors and paybacks for campaign contributions, or by limiting the ability to run for office to the wealthy.
- Elected officials should represent everyday folks and the full range of the interest groups who represent them -- not just a handful of the wealthiest special interests.
- Elected officials should spend their time governing, not fundraising.