All posts by Angela DOrazio

Another Chance for Clean Elections in California

Last Tuesday, California Assemblywoman Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) revitalized the push for clean money in California state elections.  According to an Associated Press story that appeared in the Orange County Register, Hancock’s bill is modeled after the systems of voluntary public financing already in place in Arizona and Maine.

Basically, candidates who choose to use public funds for their campaigns must first collect a specified number of “qualifying contributions,” or $5 donations, in order to show substantial public support.  This addresses one potential fear of publicly funded elections–that “fringe” candidates will receive tax payers’ dollars to run a campaign.  Hancock’s bill didn’t get a vote on Tuesday from the Elections, Redistricting and Constitutional Amendments Committee, but if approved by lawmakers and Governor Schwarzenegger, the bill would be up to the voters in June 2008.

After the failure of Proposition 89, California needs a good public financing initiative that follows the example of the law in two states where clean elections have been successful for the last three election cycles.  Public financing is the only way to ensure that our representatives are elected on the merits of their ideas rather than their fundraising prowess and are beholden only to their constituents. 

Supporters of public financing see it as the only way to break the link between special interest money and elected officials.  According to the story in the Orange County Register:

“The money continues to flow in from special interests and the favors continue to flow out…,” said Ned Wigglesworth, a lobbyist for California Common Cause, a citizens’ group that has campaigned for years for a public financing system.

“Candidates who represent the interests of regular folks still bump into a green ceiling. Unless you’re willing to take positions favored by monied interests, you are not going to raise the kind of money you need to run a viable campaign. That’s why we’re here.”

If we expect legislation that is written and enacted in the public’s interest than we must eliminate the influence of special interest money on the political process.  The same rationale for demanding a system of public financing for state elections in California applies to federal elections.  That is why it is important to support the Fair Elections Now Act, a bill recently introduced in the Senate by Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (R-PA).  The California delegation, which holds important positions in both houses of Congress, will be absolutely vital to getting this legislation passed in the Senate and eventually in the House.

Back at home though, Californians who believe in a fair electoral process free from the corrupting influence of special interest money should contact their state legislators to demand a clean elections system in California.  Public financing is a reform that 75 percent of Americans want, and if you are one of them, demand it for your state.

Labor Firmly Supports the Fair Elections Now Act

Since the introduction of the Fair Elections Now Act, the labor community has thrown its substantial weight behind the measure, which would create a voluntary system of publicly financed congressional elections.  No doubt, labor’s support was instrumental in winning Republican co-sponsorship from Arlen Specter (R-PA), a strong labor advocate.  Support for the bill comes from the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, CWA, and SEIU. 

While labor’s position on California’s Clean Money and Fair Election Act (Prop. 89) was spotty due to a number of factors that had little to do with the actual merits of public financing, it is clear that labor stands firmly behind the Fair Elections Now Act.

Remember, this is a bill that is designed to curb the influence of special interest money on the political process.  Though labor unions contribute to political campaigns, they are simply outspent by business.  In fact, by some estimates, business outspends labor 6 to 1.  According to, labor has contributed $585 million to political campaigns since 1990.  Compare that to the more than $1 billion that business has contributed in the same time period.

None of that would matter if our system wasn’t so influenced by money.  But the reality is that important labor reforms, such as a drastic increase in the minimum wage (and by drastic I mean more than the “hike” made in the Democrats’ first 100 hours) and the Employee Free Choice Act are at risk of being overlooked by representatives who fix their eyes on the green of large contributions from groups sympathetic to business interests.

Another reason for labor to support the Fair Election Now Act is that labor unions, at their core, are about organizing people and allowing those people to have a fair shot at being heard by the powers that be, regardless of their inability to make large contributions.  If the influence of money is eliminated, labor unions remain strongly influential due to their organizing power. 

Ultimately, however, our representatives should vote according to their constituents’ wishes, many of whom are not represented by business or labor groups.  If we want legislation that serves the broadest public interests, then we need to eliminate the destructive influence of special interests, be they business or labor.

California to Play a Major Role in the Fight for Federal “Clean Money” Elections

(Really? Ya mean Californians care about a better and more effective democracy as well? ; ) – promoted by atdleft)

Clean money, or public financing of campaigns, is back on the agenda, this time on the federal level.  On March 20, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, and Arlen Specter (R-PA) introduced bipartisan legislation that would create a voluntary system of full public financing for congressional elections.  The bill, called the Fair Elections Now Act (FENA), is designed to curb the “pay-to-play” nature of politics in D.C. in which special interests have a disproportionate impact on the political process via their large campaign contributions.  The logic of this ethical reform is identical to that of Proposition 89, the California Clean Money and Fair Elections Act, but FENA is without many of the problems that led to the demise of Prop. 89. 

Here’s how the public financing system would work under FENA: In order to qualify for public funds, should a candidate choose to use them, he or she must first gather a specific amount of “qualifying contributions” of exactly $5 each to show substantial support from the community. If candidates collect enough contributions, they are then eligible for public funds, the amount of which are based on the size of the state. 

In addition, if a “clean money” candidate is running against an opponent who chooses to fund his or her campaign with private contributions, FENA provides “Fight-Fair Funds” for the participating candidate.  These funds would increase the amount of funds to the participating candidate by up to 200%. 

Essentially, FENA would create a win-win situation for everyone involved: candidates wouldn’t have to spend all of their time fundraising and could instead focus on the voters, and voters would gain more responsive representatives who make legislation in the interest of them, not big-time campaign donors.

California is absolutely critical to passing this much needed reform.  Eventually, the House leadership from California, particularly Reps. Pelosi and Waxman, will be important in this process, but at this point, it is vital that Senator Dianne Feinstein support FENA.  As the Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, the committee that has jurisdiction over FENA, she will be instrumental in getting this legislation passed.

A number of citizen groups, representing a variety of issues, have already showed their support for the Fair Elections Now Act.  Among them are the NAACP, AFL-CIO, League of Women Voters, and the National Council of Churches.  The San Francisco Chronicle published an editorial last December in which they encouraged the prospect of Durbin’s federal public financing bill.  The editors there believe that “clean money” legislation, like the FENA, is the only way to “drain the swamp” of political corruption in D.C. and Sacramento that is inherently related to special interest money.

Already Durbin’s staff has been speaking with Senator Feinstein about the merits of this legislation.  Common Cause and other good government groups have been working on this issue as well.  They think she’ll come around, but a little coaxing from her constituents couldn’t hurt.