CLEAN MONEY CAMPAIGN REFORM
A WINNING SYSTEM FOR VOTERS AND ELECTED OFFICIALS
Campaign finance laws have essentially unraveled in the 1990s,
leaving candidates with less |, confidence in how to navigate
the system fairly, and voters with much less faith in government
in general. Special interests pour more money into politics through
a variety of devices, from bundled campaign contributions to soft
money to issue ads. As vast amounts of money flow into the system,
costs skyrocket. Consultants, pollsters, broadcast advertising-all
demand more and more of a candidate's cash. With the need to raise
money come more questionable practices and increased media scrutiny.
Scandals focus people's attention on possible illegalities, but
the bigger scandal is that so much of the money changing hands
has been completely legal. What President Lyndon Johnson observed
some 30 years ago is even truer today: the system is "more
loophole than law."
While Congress and many state legislatures appear far from
any consensus on a solution, there are signs that citizens and
some bold public servants are taking the lead with Clean Money
Campaign Reform. Since 199G, voters in three states-Maine, Arizona,
and Massachusetts- have passed Clean Money proposals. In June
1997, members of the Vermont legislature voted overwhelmingly
to create such a system for their state. Although each law is
crafted to meet the unique needs of a particular state, all establish
an alternate financing system that offers full public funding
to candidates for state office who reject special-interest contributions
and agree to campaign spending limits.
Elected officials' complaints are strikingly similar to those
Speaking Freely: Former Members of Congress Talk about Money
in Politics, a 1995 book by the Center for Responsive Politics,
was based on interviews with 25 retiring members of Congress,
both Democrats and Republicans. All but one of those interviewed
called for urgent reforms. The lawmakers voiced several conclusions
about the current system:
* Congress is compromised by the appearance or public perception
of improprieties and conflicts of interest because of the private
money used to fund campaigns
* There are, in fact, actual conflicts of interest, large
* Contributors do indeed facilitate access to legislators,
and that access can translate into action
*Lawmakers on specific committees regularly solicit contributions
from groups they regulate
* Elected officials must spend too much time on fundraising,
an activity that they almost universally disliked, taking time
away from duties they much preferred, such as constituent service
There is also great concern among elected leaders at nearly
every level that the cost of elections is skyrocketing.
Indeed, some are so tired of the money chase that they are
leaving politics. When Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) announced
he would not run again in 2000, money was a major factor. "I
do not want to sit there all these hours of each day asking for
money when in fact there is good solid work to be done. It would
distract me from the job I was sent to Washington to do,"
said Lautenberg. The average spent by a winning Senate candidate
in 1998 was $5.4 million; the average for a House seat was $650,000.
The money-chase isn't just restricted to Washington politics.
Gray Davis, who won California's gubernatorial race in 1998, spent
some $34.8 million to get to the governor's mansion. In large
cities and states, campaigns For the state-house or even mayoral
races can run to six or seven figures. As experienced politicians
and gifted potential candidates choose not to run rather than
face the arduous task of raising this much money, we will experience
a loss of the best leadership.
CLEAN MONEY CAMPAIGN REFORM: THE MOST COMPREHENSIVE SOLUTION
The success of the Maine, Massachusetts, and Arizona ballot
initiatives has given greater energy and focus to campaign finance
reform efforts in more than a dozen states, including Missouri,
Oregon, Michigan, and Idaho. In much the same way, the passage
of the "Vermont Campaign Option" by the Vermont legislature
in June 1997 has since inspired state legislators around the country
to come out in support of similar reforms in such places as Connecticut,
New Mexico, North Carolina, and
Wisconsin. It has also galvanized federal lawmakers to introduce
CMCR bills in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
CMCR is strictly voluntary, in keeping with Supreme Court
rulings. No two CMCR bills are exactly the same, and it is important
to note that each state can and should craft its legislation to
suit its needs. However, in general it represents the most comprehensive
and far-reaching approach to election finance. It is an alternate
system that provides strong incentives to participate - qualifying
candidates receive a set amount of Clean Money from a publicly
financed fund if they agree to reject private money and limit
Clean Money Campaign Reform is a package of measures that:
* allows a candidate to reject contributions from special
interests if the candidate agrees to participate in the CMCR system,
* bans the use of "soft money" to influence elections,
* makes available free or discounted television time for federal
candidates and requires candidate debates,
* addresses the problem of electioneering efforts that masquerade
as non-electoral "issue campaigns,"
* provides additional funding to Clean Money candidates targeted
by independent expenditures,
* deepens disclosure and toughens enforcement.
Clean Money Campaign Reform has the greatest potential to
bring about change because it:
Allows the greatest reduction in the cost of campaigns-Because
it eliminates the need for fundraising expenses and provides (to
federal candidates) a substantial amount of free and discounted
TV and/or radio time, CMCR requires candidates to spend less on
campaigns than under any other reform proposal.
Combines the best candidate support with the most competitive
and fair election financing-A CMCR system provides limited but
sufficient and equal funding for qualified candidates. Many candidates
worry that if an opposing candidate opts out of the Clean Money
system and runs on private money, he or she will have an advantage.
CMCR recognizes this potential problem and provides additional
funding for CMCR candidates if they are outspent by non-participating
opponents. Thus, CMCR enables qualified individuals to run for
office on a financially level playing field regardless of their
personal economic status or access to large contributors.
Ends the money chase and provides stronger enforcement mechanisms
-Clean Money Campaign Reform frees candidates and elected officials
from the burden of continuous fundraising and thus allows them
to spend their time on their real duties. In some instances, it
may shorten the duration of campaigns, when the public is bombarded
with broadcast ads and mass mailings, by limiting the period during
which candidates receive their funding. Moreover, federal and
some state proposals strengthen the enforcement and investigative
authority of election commissions.
Holds up under constitutional scrutiny-In recent years, a
variety of well-meant reforms have been proposed or passed at
the state and local level, such as restricting contributions to
$] 0() or setting spending limits. Although some of these reforms
address the problem (or at least part of it), they do not withstand
the legal challenges inevitably brought by campaign finance reform
opponents. In contrast, Clean Money Campaign Reform fits comfortably
within constitutional bounds principally because it is an alternate
and voluntary system. Candidates choose to participate and thus
choose to agree by such provisions as the spending limits.
HOW CLEAN MONEY CAMPAIGN REFORM WORKS
The CMCR approach is designed to provide a clear alternative
to the current system of raising and spending largely special-interest
money to finance election campaigns. It allows qualified candidates
to run for public office without compromising their independence
since they won't have to ask for money from those with a vested
interest in public policy. The system is completely voluntary
and candidates who do not wish to participate are able to raise
and spend private money for their campaigns, as they do today.
Qualification - Candidates first must meet ballot access requirements,
and then must meet the eligibility threshold for Clean Money funding.
Most CMCR proposals require candidates to collect, during a pre-defined
qualifying period, a prescribed number of signatures and $5 qualifying
contributions from registered voters in their state or district.
To cover minor costs during the qualifying period, candidates
are permitted to raise a limited amount of seed money from private
sources in amounts not exceeding $ l 00 per contributor.
Primary funding-Candidates who meet CMCR requirements and
agree not to raise or spend private money during the primary and
general election campaign periods receive a set amount of money
from the Clean Money fund. Federal candidates also receive a prescribed
amount of free and discounted TV and/or radio time.
General election funding-Candidates who win their party primaries
and qualifying independent candidates who agree to the voluntary
restrictions receive a set amount of general election funding
from the Clean Money fund, as well as additional free and discounted
TV and/or radio time.
Non-participating candidates and independent expenditures-In
order to maintain a financially level playing field, Clean Money
candidates who are outspent by privately financed opponents, or
targeted by independent expenditures, are entitled to a limited
amount of matching funds.
Cost-At the federal level, the cost of Clean Money Campaign
Reform to congressional elections would be approximately $1.3
billion per election cycle (with approximately $846 million going
to House races and $472 million going toward Senate races). This
amounts to about $6.50 for the average taxpayer per year. These
estimates are based on generous assumptions regarding the cost
of basic Clean Money grants to participating candidates for both
the primary and general elections and the cost of additional funding
to respond to independent expenditures and excess spending by
privately financed candidates.
Funding mechanisms -Revenue for a federal Clean Money Fund
will come from a combination of the $5 qualifying contributions
collected by participating candidates, voluntary contributions
from citizens, and direct appropriations by Congress. In theory,
federal CMCR would not require new taxes because the costs could
be offset by the elimination of unnecessary subsidies, tax breaks
and regulatory exemptions that big money contributors now get
from Congress. But it is important to note that the cost of providing
Clean Money is borne by the public. The trade-off is that the
public gets to buy back its government from special interests.
State proposals and legislation offer a range of funding mechanisms.
In Arizona, for example, no tax increase is required. Funding
comes from lobbyist fees, violator fines, and voluntary contributions,
encouraged by tax credits for those who support Clean Elections.
The Massachusetts Clean Election Fund receives its financial support
from voluntary check-off on the state income tax forms and from
appropriations by the state legislature. Funds are capped at one-tenth
of 1 percent of the Massachusetts state budget. The major sources
of income for the Vermont Campaign Fund come from the annual report
fees paid by business corporations; a 5 percent tax on lobbyists'
expenditures; and from the Vermont campaign fund add-on.
WHO SUPPORTS CLEAN MONEY CAMPAIGN REFORM ?
The question of who backs Clean Money reform is an important
one for elected officials and future candidates. The answer, in
brief, is a range of people cutting across political, social,
ethnic, and economic lines since it represents a truly broad and
deep constituency. Conservative political analyst Arianna Huffington
calls Clean Money Campaign Reform "a much-needed response
to the takeover of our political system by special interests that
are not only driving Mack trucks through the loopholes in the
existing laws, but also determining much of our national agenda."
Antonia Hernandez, executive director of the Mexican American
Legal Defense and Education Fund, notes the potential for bringing
more people back into the system. "Our current system of
financing political campaigns excludes many people, including
Latinos, from fully participating in the political process because
they do not have vast financial resources," says Hernandez.
"Clean Money Campaign Reform will help to change this, and
enhance democracy for all of us."
One reflection of the breadth of support for the Clean Money
approach is found in Public Campaign's National Advisory Board.
More than 100 individuals have signed on to the board as a show
of their support for this far-reaching reform. They include 27
former members of Congress (12 Republicans and 15 Democrats),
six former presidential candidates, six former lieutenant governors,
and a long list of high-profile academics, clergy, businesspeople,
legal scholars, political activists, and civil rights leaders.
The most important show of support, however, is from voters,
with three wins in as many years in state ballot initiatives.
in states as disparate as Maine and Arizona. Couple that with
the support apparent in public opinion polling. A solid majority
of voters - Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike - said
they favored a Clean money-type proposal. A 1996 Mellman Group
survey found that 68 percent of Americans support a system modeled
after the Maine proposal. Gallup's October 1996 poll reported
that 64 percent of voters nationwide support a system in which
the "federal government provides a fixed amount of money
for the election campaigns of candidates for Congress . . . and
. . . all private contributions [are] prohibited."
A September ] 998 poll in eight states found similarly stunning
support for Clean Money at the state level: The polls showed that
voters are eager to see wide-ranging reforms. At least 60 percent
of voters and as many as 74 percent supported a Clean Money system
(74 percent in New Hampshire, 70 percent in Missouri, 66 percent
in North Carolina, 66 percent in Ohio, 65 percent in New York,
64 percent in Mississippi, 63 percent in Colorado and 60 percent
Clean Money Campaign Reform appeals to so many people because
they know they are the losers under the current system. "The
American people instinctively know that when big money rules,
ordinary voters are left out in the cold," says John Anderson,
former congressman and presidential candidate, and a founding
co-chair of Public Campaign's National Advisory Board. "Our
mission is nothing less than to restore our faith in government
and to strengthen our national institutions so that they may endure
and be passed on in good health to our children."