Saturday Forum Set on 'Clean Money' System

By Judy Cox and Anne Spanier, Commentary

CALIFORNIANS REALIZE that the corrupting influence of huge sums of money on our election system threatens the democratic process, according to a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute.

Seventy percent believed that special interest groups control the political decisions made in California.

Only 24 percent trusted their government officials to represent their interests.

Fund raising for elections has become a crisis: Candidates need to raise ever-larger sums of money. Well-heeled donors contribute large amounts to state officials when bills related to their interests are considered. Various laws enacted over the years to control fund-raising have been ruled unconstitutional. Incumbent legislators and entrenched interest groups are reluctant to change a system that benefits them.

In contrast to California's failed attempts to address this issue, two states -- Maine and Arizona -- have adopted a system of public financing of elections that has shown promising results. It works in this way:

• Candidates who agree to accept public funding must demonstrate a minimum level of support by gathering a set number of voter signatures and $5 contributions from a specific number of voters in their district.

• Each candidate receives money for his/her campaign based on levels determined for each office. While the funding system is voluntary, efforts are made to create parity with privately funded candidates.

• "Clean money candidates" can advertise as such.

• Candidates who raise corporate or private money must prove their allegiance to their constituencies, not their big donors.

Voters have overwhelmingly supported "clean candidates" in both Maine and Arizona. As a consequence, both states have increased the diversity of their legislatures. More women and minorities have qualified for office as a result, and Maine has just recently passed a voluntary system of single payer health insurance. Arizona elected a moderate reform-minded governor, who ran as a clean candidate. Labor and conservative forces in both states, initially skeptical about the system, now endorse it.

Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, has recently introduced a bill, AB583, that would set up a "clean money" system of public election funding in California.

A formal hearing was held in October in Southern California and a town hall meeting on the bill will be held in Oakland from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday at Oakland City Hall. A wide spectrum of grass-roots support is growing in the state for this effort. The League of Women Voters supports this bill and will be mounting an effort to inform the public on this vital issue.

We urge all voters and disenchanted voters alike to learn more about this proposed legislation and to talk to their friends and neighbors about the proposal. We also need citizens to write their state legislators and ask them to support this desperately needed reform.

Let's try a "clean money" system for California. To learn more, go to caclean.org.

Judy Cox is the former co-chair of the League of Women Voters of Oakland, and Anne Spanier is on the board of the League of Women Voters of Oakland. Both co-chair a committee of the Alameda County Council of LWV on Clean Elections. Reach Cox at judyacox@comcast.net and reach Spanier at annespanier@mindspring.com.


See the article on Contra Costa Times website



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