Public Campaign


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 of constituents.

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 and small

* 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 and policy-making

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.



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 their spending.

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.



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.



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 in Indiana).

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."

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