What are Clean Elections?
In Maine, Arizona, New Mexico, Vermont, Massachusetts, and North Carolina, voters have passed laws creating a new system of campaign finance that takes big corporate donors and lobbyists (who expect a successful candidate to repay them with favors later) out of the equasion. Known variously as Clean Elections, Voter Owned Elections, Fair Elections, and Clean Money, the system offers state funding for candidates who fulfill a requirement of raising a set amount (in typically $5000 for State House of Representatives seats and $10,000 for State Senate seats) in small donations ($5 to $100) within their own districts.
The benefits: each candidate is obliged to meet and speak with many of her constituents in raising the initial set of small donations, and the system encourages low-income, minority and female candidates to run for office, creating a greater range of views in the state legislature. Low and middle income citizens are politically engaged by the candidates, not only as donors of money, but of public opinion on issues.
In Arizona, the money to fund the candidates comes from fines paid to the state for crimes and from donations made on the state income forms. “If you don’t break the law, don’t write a check and don’t check the box, you are not paying for Clean Elections,” states the Clean Elections website in Arizona.
Most other states have campaigns going to create this system; in Hawaii, where I vote, the clean elections initiative lost in the state legislature in 2005 by only a few votes, and a new campaign continues this year. In Arizona, one of the first two states to institute Clean Elections, the same people who campaigned to get it passed work constantly to keep the law from being gutted or overturned by the banks, insurance companies and real estate developers who are used to having their way in government, rather than seeing it serve the people.
Arizona’s good news:
•Clean Elections winners hold 10 of the 11 statewide offices (all except Superintendent of Public Instruction), 35 of the 60 House seats, and 7 of the 30 Senate seats.
•Clean Elections is nonpartisan. Major supporters include Republican U.S. Senator John McCain and Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano. Of the 46 Clean Elections winners in 2004, 28 were Republicans and 18 were Democrats.
•Clean Elections has increased citizen participation in the political process. Contributors to all candidates went from 7,000 in 1998 (the last year without Clean Elections) to 90,000 in 2002 (the first time all state offices were on the ballot under Clean Elections).
If you’d like an entire kit including the 14 minute Bill Moyers-narrated video “The Road to Clean Elections” click here.
If you’d like to find the local organization promoting Clean Elections in your state, click here.