CGS Calls for Clean Money 2.0

Model bill accounts for Supreme Court ruling

By Brian Leubitz

In a report recently released, the Center for Governmental Studies calls for a modified version of clean money to control the excessive spending and allow for additional competition.  In fact, they’ve gone ahead and produced a full model bill, complete with language that has some rather grand goals.

It establishes a hybrid system of full and partial public financing systems for statewide and legislative candidates. It provides candidates with an initial lump sum of funds  and then allows them to continue raising matching funds.  

The Act first requires candidates to qualify for public financing by raising a specified amount  of small campaign contributions, ranging from 750 contributions of $5 or more for Assembly  candidates, to 25,000 contributions of $5 or more for gubernatorial candidates. Qualifying  funds can only come from individual residents of the state. Once candidates qualify, the state  provides them with a lump sum of funding to run their campaigns, depending on the office  and the size of the jurisdiction.

The Act also places contribution limits on all state and local candidates running in California.  Specifically, it lowers California’s contribution limits and brings them into line with federal  limits-establishing contribution limits of $2,500 per candidate per election. In addition, the  Act closes a number of loopholes in existing laws, bringing under the same contribution limit  money raised by candidates and officeholders for ballot measure committees, legal defense  committees, inauguration committees and officeholder accounts. The Act also prohibits  off-year fundraising.

Of course, the Supreme Court’s decision in Arizona’s clean money system makes all of this susceptible to a court challenge.  And it is really hard to say which way the Court would go, as their regulation on campaign finance has really gone off the rails.  Ultimately to get the campaign finance system we really need for a robust democracy, we’ll need to repeal Buckley v Valeo and reject the notion that money equals speech.  Otherwise the richest among us get to speak far louder than those that can’t afford to put a million bucks worth of TV commercials on the air.

This Act would be a good start, but don’t expect it to come through the Legislature.  Republicans would fight it tooth and nail, and, of course, they have their own ideas about how to “fix” campaign finance.  Rob Stutzman, a former Schwarzenegger aide, has some suggestions:

Stutzman, however, said lowering contribution limits will put even more pressure on candidates to start raising money early. He said legislators facing term limits should be allowed to plan for future statewide campaigns. Stutzman, instead, would propose raising contribution limits to $100,000 per election and require immediate public disclosure of the donations. (California Watch)

Yes, really $100,000.  That is the Republican plan to “reform” system.  Allowing people to contribute $100,000 to a candidate.  I know that the IEs are kind of outrageous these days, but do we really think that allowing people to give $100K is really the way to solve that?  Seems like a long way down the slippery slope that just leads to unlimited contributions.  Are we eventually just going to give in and let Larry Ellison, Reed Hastings, Stewart Resnick, the gambling tribes, and Chevron sit around a table and decide who will be our next set of leaders?

I know a lot of people complain about “we can’t afford” to spend money on political campaigns, but the truth is that we can’t afford not to.  As it stands, we throw billions of dollars, from all levels of government, at stupid projects pushed by the wealthy.  Yet we can’t afford publicly financed campaigns. Funny how that is.