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Politics and Economy:
Democracy in Danger?
More on This Story:
Fixing Democracy: The Clean Election Movement

Campaign finance has been a recurring issue (even in campaigns) in recent years. Indeed, just this year Congress passed another piece of legislation on the matter, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. The 2002 election cycle is the last before the act goes into effect and will be a record-breaker in terms of money gathered and money spent.

Some critics say the new law doesn't go far enough. A handful of states are trying out a different approach. They are offering all eligible candidates public funding for election campaigns. It's part of the "clean election" movement and this week NOW profiles one such program in Arizona. Below are resources and opinions on the clean election movement. We also have some figures on money in politics and money and politicians to add to the debate.

Clean Elections: Definitions, Locations and Resources

  • What is Clean Money Campaign Reform? Clean Money Campaign Reform attempts to break the hold of special interests on politics by providing candidates with a set amount of public funds to run for office. Currently fourteen states provide some public subsidies, mostly as partial or matching funds to those running for office who stay below a certain spending cap. Those programs do not prohibit candidates from taking major private sources of funds.

  • Where is Clean Money Campaign Reform in Practice? The Clean Money system is in force in Arizona, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine. While elements of the plan vary according to local circumstances, in general, participating candidates receive Clean Money for the primary and general elections and they qualify by raising a high number of small (e.g., $5) qualifying contributions from voters in their districts or states.

  • What do Critics Say? Some Critics maintain that the system will serve to bankrupt states and cost taxpayers money. The Goldwater Institute of Arizona found in a study of the system in Arizona that there was no significant difference in the way that legislators voted depending on the finance system of their campaigns. The Goldwater report also noted that the paperwork involved in the system could actually serve to discourage participants.

    By far the most significant criticism of the system comes under the concepts of free speech and coercion. Critics contend this is wrong to force citizens to support, through a publicly (taxpayer) funded system, candidates whose ideas are repugnant to them. According to The Cato Institute, "The right to spend money on politics, including the right to contribute to campaigns, is protected by the First Amendment. Attempts to limit that right should meet with a great deal of skepticism from both citizens and the courts."

  • Where Can I Learn More? Below is a list of sites which discuss the Clean Money Campaign System. (You can also access resources dedicated to all aspects of campaign finance reform to help you make sense out of this important issue.)

    Brennan Center for Justice
    The Brennan Center for Justice, located at New York University School of Law, is a non-partisan, public-interest law firm that "promotes equality and human dignity, while safeguarding fundamental freedoms." The Center's Web site allows users to research legislative issues concerning criminal justice, democracy and poverty, and provides news, opinions, and further resources. Of particular interest is the Center's Campaign Finance Project, where interested users can find Brennan Center analysis, op-eds, publications, and resources devoted to campaign finance.

    Citizens Clean Elections Commission (CCEC)
    The Citizens Clean Elections Commission is a regulatory body established after Arizona voters passed the 1998 Citizens Clean Elections Act. The CCEC's Web site provides Arizona voters with candidate information, forms (candidate, lobbyist, and voter), financial data relating to the candidates, information on the commission, and commissioner profiles. Additional features include debate resources, schedules, publication lists, and press kits.

    Clean Elections Institute (CEI)
    The Clean Elections Institute "encourages participation in the electoral progress and seeks to build confidence in democratic institutions." The CEI Web site features general resource guides for the 2002 Arizona election, including information on candidates and general educational resources on the 1998 Clean Elections Act. The CEI also provides up-to-date news related to clean elections and information regarding volunteering and donations.

    Goldwater Institute: Clean Elections Law Not Doing Job
    Robert J. Franciosi, director of a free-market think tank in Phoenix, argues that on the Goldwater Institute's Web site that Arizona's Clean Elections Law is a regulatory nightmare. Rather than campaigning, Franciosi argues some candidates end up caught in a web of complex and confusing regulations. Furthermore, Franciosi maintains the Clean Election Law violates the constitutional right to privacy and Franciosi advocates the repeal of the clean election laws.

    Hoover Institution's Public Policy Inquiry on Campaign Finance(Clean Elections Page)
    Stanford University's Hoover Institution provides a clean elections page that features summaries and articles concerning the clean elections movement.

    Institute for Justice
    A libertarian public interest law firm, the Institute for Justice's stated mission is to protect individual civil rights from State oppression. Opposed to the Arizona Clean Elections Act on First Amendment grounds, the Institute for Justice is currently litigating for its repeal. In the "Legal Cases" section of the site, readers can find the article "Challenging Coerced Subsidies for the Political Class: A First Amendment Lawsuit," in which the Institute argues that the Arizona law infringes the civil rights of the state's citizens.

    Mass Voters for Clean Elections (MVCE)
    Mass Voters for Clean Elections is a non-partisan grassroots organization in Massachusetts which is endeavoring to level the playing field of electoral politics by reducing the influence of special interest contributions. The MVCE Web site enables voters to see where their state representatives and state senators stand on the issue of clean elections. Other MVCE features include news and press items, volunteer opportunities, and access to reports on the influence of money in Massachusetts politics.

    Public Campaign: The Road to Clean Elections
    Public Campaign's "The Road to Clean Elections" Web page gives a general overview of the clean election laws enacted by Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont. The Web site also features legislation implementation fact sheets, brochures, and Public Citizen's new study, "Revitalizing Democracy: Clean Election Reform Shows the Way Forward."

    The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) notes that the cost of winning varies widely by district. A tight race for House cost approximately $1.5 million to $2 million in 2000. The average cost was $840,000. Huge spending in New Jersey and New York in 2000 raised the average cost of a Senate seat to $7.3 million.

    More candidates are funding themselves. Just this week FORBES listed the ten wealthiest American politicians (see below). But the CRP notes that you can spend a lot of money and still not end up with an office. Figures collected at the end of the 2000 election show that 80 percent of the top self-spending candidates lost.

    America's Richest Politicians (Net Worth)

    Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor, New York (R):  $4.8 billion
    Winthrop Rockefeller, Lt. Gov., Arkansas (R)  S1.2 billion
    B. Thomas Golisano, Running for Gov. of New York (I):  $1.1 billion
    John Kerry, Senator, Massachusetts (D):  $550 million
    Tony Sanchez, Running for Gov., Texas (D):  $500 million
    Arno Houghton, Rep. New York (R):  $475 million
    Jon S. Corzine, Senator, New Jersey (D):  $300 million
    Herb Kohl, Senator, Wisconsin (D):  $250 million
    Jay Rockefeller, Senator, West Virginia (D):  $200 million
    Mark R. Warner, Gov., Virginia (D):  $200 million

    Source: FORBES

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