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Week of 10.20.06

Votes for Sale?

The run-up to this year's midterm election smells of scandal and corruption, which raises the question: Can anyone stop the influence of big money and big influence on political campaigns?

Before, you say "of course not," check out our special hour-long investigation into the fight to keep American elections free and fair across the country. Airing less than three weeks before Americans go to the polls, "Votes for Sale?" will spotlight the so-called clean elections movement, a radical public-funding experiment adopted in Maine and Arizona to revolutionize how campaigns are conducted. It works like this: candidates for public office receive a flat sum of money from the government to finance their campaign. In return, the candidates agree to use almost no private funds to run their elections.

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Pushing special interest money out of the election process may do more than clean things up. It could also open the door for a variety of people who care about democracy to run for office with realistic hopes of winning. Case in point: Arizona State Representative Doug Quelland, a conservative Republican who supports clean elections by his own example. With a background in public school teaching and running a handful of neighborhood businesses, including a lawnmower repair shop, Quelland captured voter interest door-to-door armed only with his passion and point of view. He's now running for his third term in the state legislature and still sports his trademark handlebar moustache. "I don't want to owe anybody anything. I don't want to have to have the special interests. I just want to do it and not beholden to anybody," Rep. Quelland told NOW.

Quelland's state of Arizona is one of the biggest clean election battlegrounds, where the nation's only "clean-elected" governor, Janet Napolitano, sits in the statehouse. Governor Napolitano talks to NOW's David Brancaccio about her strong convictions regarding clean elections. "I think what clean elections allows you to do is be a better candidate and a better office holder, because you're not all the time having to raise money," Napolitano said.

In California, a very contentious debate is underway over Proposition 89, a clean election initiative about which voters will have the final say on November 7.

Although the clean election movement has many allies, it has also generated intense opposition on both the left and the right. The Goldwater Institute says that the system is invasive and overly complicated, and that giving candidates money is a form of free speech and should not be restricted. The ACLU maintains fair play and free speech is about fewer restrictions, not more.

Will "politics of the people" be a clean democratic step forward or a messy economic step backward? NOW travels across the country to find out.

Related Links:

Americans for Campaign Reform
A group in support of public-funding for all federal elections

Public Campaign: A group supporting 'clean elections'
Clean Elections in your State

Arizona-Specific

Arizona - Citizens Clean Elections Commission
List of 2006 Candidates

Clean Elections Institute

Goldwater Institute
"Campaign Promises: A six-year review of Arizona's experiment with taxpayer-financed campaigns"

California-Specific

Californians for Clean Elections - Yes on 89
This group supports so-called clean elections. They believe "prop 89 is the antidote to negative ads paid for by rich special interests." It limits the amount corporations can spend on initiatives. It limits the amount everybody can give to candidates.

Californians to Stop 89
This group is against the clean elections movement and believe that the initiative "works to shut certain groups like small businesses, non-profits and some unions, out of the political process" therby creating an "unlevel playing field."

Maine-Specific

Maine Citizens for Clean Elections

Maine Commission of Government Actions and Election Practices
List of 2006 Candidates