Frequently Asked Questions About
Clean Money Campaign Reform
from Public Campaign
What is Clean Money Campaign Reform?
Clean Money Campaign Reform provides qualifying candidates
- who agree to limit their spending and reject contributions from
private sources - with a set amount of public funds to run for
office. It is a model reform for both federal and state races
and versions of it have already passed in two states: Maine and
Vermont. While elements of the plan vary according to local circumstances,
in general, participating candidates receive full public financing
for the primary and general elections. They qualify for funding
by raising a high number of small (e.g., $5) qualifying contributions
from voters in their districts or states.
Clean Money Campaign Reform is not an attempt to patch up
the current system, but instead is designed as an alternative
to it. By ending politicians' reliance on special interest money
- and offering in its place a limited but competitive amount of
money from a Clean Money fund - Clean Money Campaign Reform provides
another way for candidates to finance their campaigns.
Is it constitutional?
Yes. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, public financing
of election campaigns - a key component of Clean Money Campaign
Reform - is constitutional as long as the system is voluntary.
Candidates do not have to choose Clean Money. They can reject
public funds and continue to finance their campaigns the "old-fashioned"
way, by raising private money.
What makes you think that candidates will opt into a Clean
There are strong incentives for candidates to choose a Clean
Money system. No elected official likes having to spend so much
time raising money, year in and year out. No challenger looks
forward to the task of trying to raise the huge sums of money
being spent today. In fact, these obstacles discourage many good
candidates from running for office. Moreover, what candidate or
elected official enjoys the public perception, if not the reality,
that they are compromised by their acceptance of large contributions
from special interests?
Will candidates receive enough money to run a competitive
Yes. Candidates who choose Clean Money funding get the equivalent
of what is being spent, on average, today for campaigns. The actual
dollar amounts are lower because the candidates no longer have
certain expenses. Clean Money candidates do not have to spend
any money on fundraising and, for federal elections, they receive
free and discounted TV time and mailings. Actually, Clean Money
Campaign Reform helps hold down the overall cost of campaigns.
Won't Clean Money candidates still get outspent by wealthy,
self-financed candidates who do not need to fund-raise and can
spend as much as they want?
In most instances, no. Under Clean Money Campaign Reform,
participating candidates receive additional funds in the form
of a dollar-for-dollar match, up to a set limit, if a non-participating
opponent spends more than the basic public financing grant. This
doesn't mean that a participant can't be outspent by an opponent
like Steve Forbes, Michael Huffington, or Ross Perot. But as recent
history shows, extravagant personal spending does not guarantee
Doesn't Clean Money Campaign Reform force candidates to participate
and penalize them if they do not?
No. Candidates have a choice: they can run under a Clean Money
system or the current system. If they choose private funding,
they are not bound by any of the Clean Money provisions and can
fund-raise, although they must abide by the current laws on contribution
limits and reporting. What Clean Money does is provide an alternative
to the special-interest money system that serves both the candidates
and the voting public. Candidates have another way to run for
office and voters have a clearer choice at the voting booth.
Won't Clean Money Campaign Reform force private money to go
around the system?
Besides providing participating candidates with a set amount
of public funding for their campaigns, it is important to think
of Clean Money Campaign Reform as a package of reforms. First,
it will close the soft money loophole. It will also provide additional
public funds, up to a set limit, for Clean Money candidates who
are targeted by independent expenditures - that is, advertisements
or other communications which expressly advocate the election
or defeat of a candidate and are not made in coordination with
Clean Money candidates may also receive additional funds if
they are targeted by unregulated issue ads - ads that ostensibly
promote legislative issues, not political candidates - if they
refer to specific candidates and appear just before elections.
Will these measures be 100 percent effective in stopping private
money from getting around the system and influencing federal elections?
Of course not. What a Clean Money system will do, with 100 percent
effectiveness, is eliminate participating candidates' dependence
on direct contributions from big money contributors.
How much will Clean Money Campaign Reform cost?
The cost of Clean Money Campaign Reform for 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.
How will Clean Money Campaign Reform be paid for?
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. This cost could be easily offset by
the elimination of unnecessary subsidies, tax breaks, and regulatory
exemptions that big money contributors now get from Congress.
Thus, Clean Money Campaign Reform is designed to be revenue neutral,
with no new taxes required to pay for it.
However, this does not change the fact 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 the special interests
that are the primary funders of our current system. Numerous public
opinion polls indicate that a large majority of Americans believe
such a trade-off is worthwhile.
Who would administer the Clean Money fund?
While there could be a number of ways to administer the fund,
in the model bill advanced by Public Campaign, the fund would
be administered by an election commission consisting of five commissioners
with no more than two from the same political party. This is to
avoid the kind of partisan gridlock we see in the current Federal
Election Commission (FEC), which has six commissioners - three
from each of the major parties.
Under a model Clean Money system, commissioners would be appointed
by the president (or governor) from a list provided by a nonpartisan,
independent panel. A person would not be allowed to hold the office
of commissioner if he or she had served within the previous five
years as an official for any government organization or political
committee required to file with the commission. Commissioners'
terms would be limited and their powers and procedures expressly
Does the public really support "taxpayer funding"
Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for a Clean Money
system. Over two-thirds of the people polled favor public financing
of campaigns if it means that candidates will limit their campaign
spending and reject private, special-interest money to bankroll
their run for office. The results of these polls are very clear:
the more comprehensive the reform efforts, the more the public
supports them as a way to clean up our elections.
Won't the public see Clean Money Campaign Reform as just another
government spending program, or worse, a "welfare program"
Clearly, the public distrusts politicians, and taxpayers are
wary of new public expenditures. However, Clean Money Campaign
Reform can save taxpayers money. The wealthy individuals and powerful
corporations who supply most of the money for campaigns are the
recipients of billions of dollars of unnecessary tax breaks, subsidies,
and regulatory exemptions. By eliminating candidates' dependence
on these big-money donors, Clean Money Campaign Reform will make
it more likely that politicians will be able to say no to these
kinds of costly giveaways.
Modern campaigns are run on television, which is an increasingly
expensive medium. Can candidates afford TV time if they choose
to rely on Clean Money funding?
Yes. Federal candidates who participate in the Clean Money
system get a generous amount of free broadcast time. Furthermore,
they are given ample public funds to purchase additional broadcast
time at discounted rates. Clean Money candidates for state office
will receive enough funding to buy broadcast time at regular rates
(as state governments, because they do not have the authority
to regulate the airwaves, cannot force broadcasters to make available
free or discounted time).
Won't the same people as before run and win political office
under Clean Money Campaign Reform?
No. Clean Money Campaign Reform will bring about more competitive
elections and a wider range of candidates. By providing funding
for both primary and general election campaigns, Clean Money Campaign
Reform enables candidates with no personal wealth or access to
big financial contributors to, in almost every instance, run for
office with the same financial resources as candidates with close
ties to big money. This kind of level playing field is not possible
under the current system.
Won't Clean Money ,~ Campaign Reform enable "fringe candidates"
to run for office with public money?
While the public has a right to support whomever it wants,
the qualifying requirements are stiff enough to deter fringe candidates
with little or no public support from getting Clean Money. Some
form of public financing already exists in 22 states and a number
of municipalities. Where these systems are in place, the fears
about public money spurring many fringe candidacies have proven
to be unfounded.
Won't a Clean Money system open the ballot to so many people
that there may not be enough money in the Clean Money fund?
One of the goals of Clean Money Campaign Reform is to open
up the system to as many people as possible and to establish a
financially-level playing field. But, the qualifying requirements
are meant to be stiff enough so that anybody considering a run
for office will think long and hard about the seriousness of their
efforts before embarking on a campaign. It is therefore unlikely
that "too many" candidates will qualify for Clean Money
funds. Moreover, the required number of qualifying contributions
can always be raised if experience shows that it was set too low.
What about the person who says, "I cannot give time to
help a candidate. Why shouldn't I be allowed to give money?"
Under Clean Money Campaign Reform, people can still give money.
During the preprimary period, they can give a $5 qualifying contribution
and up to $100 in seed money to help their favorite candidate
qualify for Clean Money. In addition, citizens can always be able
to make a financial contribution to a political party.
It is important to note here that contributing money to political
campaigns is not one of the principal ways most people currently
participate in the political process. According to one study,
94 percent of the American people make no political contributions
at all (although 14 percent still designate a few dollars of their
federal income taxes to pay for presidential races). Most of the
money contributed by individuals in congressional races, for example,
comes from a tiny sliver - a fraction of 1 percent - of the population.
Doesn't Clean Money Campaign Reform violate the First Amendment
by suppressing political speech?
The last thing that this reform is about is suppressing anyone's
speech. It's a voluntary system designed to give a voice to those
candidates who do not have personal fortunes or access to special-interest
contributions. Our political debate - not to mention our democracy
- can only be strengthened and diversified by this expansion of
the political franchise. We're not silencing anyone; we're adding
new voices and more balance to a discussion that today is dominated
by wealthy special interests.
What's wrong with a system of matching funds for primary elections,
like the presidential system?
The 1996 presidential primaries, like the ones before it,
made it abundantly clear that providing matching money neither
eliminates the money chase nor candidates' obligation to the special
interests who give most of the money. Under a matching fund system,
raising special-interest money still determines who is the viable
candidate. Clean Money Campaign Reform, on the other hand, eliminates
candidates' need for special-interest money.
Opinion polls show that the public has little enthusiasm for
throwing good money after bad, which is how they see it when candidates
raise special-interest money and then are rewarded with additional
taxpayer dollars. By contrast, support is very high for full public
financing for candidates who reject private money and agree to
Won't Clean Money Campaign Reform undermine the strength of
and need for political parties?
Under a Clean Money system, political parties can - and should
- remain active in nominating and endorsing of candidates; identifying,
researching, and developing the party's positions on issues; and
carrying out non-candidate-specific voter registration, get-out-the
vote drives, and other "party building activities."
Clean Money reform allows political parties to play a vital role
within the political process as long as they do not serve as a
conduit through which special-interest campaign contributors can
gain influence over elected officials.
Where does Clean Money Campaign Reform fit in with all of
the other approaches to campaign finance reform that have been
introduced in Congress?
Not all reforms are created equal. Partial solutions that
do not attack the root problem of special-interest money and influence
could simply allow members of Congress to claim they've taken
action and attempt to bury the issue. However, incremental steps
that do not conflict with a comprehensive solution, such as increased
disclosure or a soft money ban are worth taking (as long as they
are not accompanied, as has been suggested by some, by increases
in contribution limits).
Will Congress ever pass a proposal like Clean Money Campaign
Leadership on Clean Money Campaign Reform will not come from
Washington. Congress will only pass it if there is enough public
pressure from outside the Beltway. History has shown us that many
significant democratic reforms, which once were thought impossible,
finally came about as a result of years of movement-building in
the states. The abolition of slavery, and the enactment of women's
suffrage, child labor laws, and the 40-hour work week all resulted
from strong agitation and organizing.
There is a growing wave of Clean Money-related campaign finance
reform happening outside the Beltway - through grassroots efforts
in the states, endorsements by citizen groups, and newspaper editorial
support. Maine and Vermont have already made Clean Money the law
and Massachusetts has qualified for a 1998 ballot initiative.
Several more states are working toward Clean Money ballot initiatives
in 1998 as well, while still others are mobilizing citizens to
support Clean Money bills in their state legislatures.
Newspapers from around the country have editorialized in support
of Clean Money, including USA Today, The Boston Globe, St. Louis
Post-Dispatch, Seattle Times, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Star
Tribune in Minneapolis, and Long Island's Newsday. Citizens' groups
like the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, United We Stand
America - as well as a range of labor, environmental and civic
organizations - have formed state-wide coalitions and are working
on behalf of Clean Money Campaign Reform across the country.
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