Committee Hopes to Clean Elections for ‘True Democracy’

By Josh Premako, Signal Staff Writer

The turnout was sparse, but that did not deter a group of residents from pushing for campaign finance reform this week.

About 15 residents turned out to St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on Wednesday night, as steering committee members of SCV Clean Money for Better Government provided information on what they say is a better foundation for elections.

“What I want to see is a true democracy,†said committee chair Carole Lutness, “where the people have control and not the corporate powers.â€

So-called clean election policies have been implemented in Maine, Arizona, North Carolina and New Mexico, to some success, providing public funds for candidates and discouraging special interest funding.

Clean Money elections have several benefits, said Eric Tang, communications coordinator for the California Clean Money Campaign.

In addition to freeing up candidates to go into the community and meet voters face to face, he said a cleanly elected candidate comes into office “with no strings attached†and no favors owed to special-interest investors.

Clean Money elections work in the following way: To qualify, a candidate must collect a specified number of $5 donations from voters in the district he or she is seeking to represent. Additionally, all Clean candidates running for the same office would each receive a base amount of funding. For example, a state Assembly candidate would receive $100,000 for the primary election.

If there are privately or self-funded candidates who raise more than the Clean candidates, the Clean candidates would receive dollar-for-dollar matching funds up to five times their original base amount.

Should a Clean candidate win the primary election, they would receive a base amount of funding for their general election campaign, plus fund-matching if necessary.

The state Clean Money bill, AB 583, was passed by the state Assembly in January and is now before the state Senate. In 2002, Tang said 60 percent of all candidates in Maine ran clean campaigns, and he said since Clean Money initiatives have been adopted in Arizona, voter turnout has increased by 20 percent.

“It’s critical that we educate the public about this idea,†he said. “It behooves any elected official ... to try to get ahead of this issue (and) do what it takes.â€

The evening also featured the screening of short film titled “The Road to Clean Elections,†by Bill Moyers, providing an overview of Clean Money and its implementation in Maine and Arizona.
Lutness said she was disappointed by the turnout Wednesday, adding she expected about 50 residents.

While four City Council candidates were in the audience, she was especially disappointed none of the current councilmembers showed up, adding she extended several invitations.

The council recently agreed to discuss campaign finance and Clean Money sometime after the April 11 election.

Council candidate Lynne Plambeck said “we should not be electing people (based on) how much money they can raise.â€

Adding that copious amounts of cash should not be necessary to win a city council election, resident Joe Messina said “I can see merit to (Clean Money),†but there needs to be very specific guidelines and more public information.


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