Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Fight for Clean Campaigns

What would you think if I told you there is a way for candidates to run for office without being wealthy or indebted to big $$ money special interests?

It's hardly a surprise that campaign donors expect a return for the big checks they write to candidates during campaigns. Special Interest lobby groups, like the Washington State Realtors spend big bucks getting “like-minded” candidates elected to office. To add insult to injury, the lion's share of the funds being donated is raised outside of the legislative district that it is being spent in.

Remember the Building Industry Association hit piece accusing Ken Mann of bringing “outsiders” to Bellingham to tell us local Yokels how to vote? The Progressive Majority didn’t do anything that the Washington State Building Industry Association or Realtors aren’t already doing. The Realtors and Building Industry Association have National Organizations that are based in Washington D.C. They also have branch offices located across 50 states.

In the world of special interests, funds raised in Seattle are spent on local races in Spokane, Bellingham, and Olympia to secure seats for candidates that will cast sympathetic votes for the special interests that are funding them.

Political paybacks wreak havoc on our political system. Large sums of special interest money flow into an incumbent Legislator’s campaign account on a regular basis. For many incumbents, the funds come unsolicited, at regular intervals as allowed by law. Over time, these contributions fill campaign coffers with large sums of cash that will almost certainly ensure the defeat of any challenger during the next election cycle.

The constant flow of special interest money drowns out the voices of ordinary citizens and small business owners who can not afford to regularly contribute large sums of money to campaigns. Granted, special interest organizations will tell you that is the reason they formed, to provide a voice for the little guy - but what happens to the rest of the "little guys" who are not represented by a special interest lobby?

Publicly funded campaigns remove the sense of indebtedness that candidates feel towards campaign contributors. In other words, elected officials are free to vote according to their constituent’s needs, for the first time, they can place the public’s interest over special interests.

With public funding, candidates still face the challenge of overcoming name recognition of a incumbent, but each candidate receives an equal amount of money for their campaign which frees them from the responsibility of having to raise funds.

How does it work?

States create an optional fund that can be financed in various ways. Candidates qualify for public funds by gathering a set number of $5 dollar donations with signatures from voters in their district. Former roommates in Michigan are not allowed to contribute. If a candidate meets a certain threshold of donations, they will receive funds sufficient to run their campaign as long as they agree not to use their own money or accept additional private contributions.

Public financing is affordable. Washclean estimates that in Washington, "a program for all state executive offices, all legislative races, and all upper-level judicial races would cost less than $4 per person, per year - less than a grande coffee mocha!"

Washclean asks citizens not to "fall for the line that we can't afford it, or that it's welfare for candidates, or that it diverts money that would have otherwise been used to fix potholes. The truth is: When lawmakers reward today's big campaign donors for their "investment", it costs more NOT to have voter owned public campaign financing."

Many voters are disgusted with the favoritism that is created by private campaign financing. Public financing offers an affordable alternative – an informed public can change the way campaigns are financed.

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