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June 29, 2006

Clean Money, Clean Elections in Washington State

It seems everyone has an opinion how to "fix" democracy in America.  But most intrepid repairmen agree: when it comes to writing laws and public policy, big donors and lobbyists rule the day; the average voter has nearly no voice.

There are proposals and movements afoot seeking to change that.  Bill Moyers, David Sirota ("Hostile Takeover") and others point to Maine and Arizona, where by recent citizen initiatives, voters adopted laws providing full public financing of election campaigns.

In election cycles since in those states, more and more candidates are choosing to run "Clean" - to forego private fundraising in favor of abiding by modest restrictions and thereby receiving full public financing for both primary and general election campaigns.  There are even provisions to increase the funds allotted a candidate if an opponent using their own money outspends the candidate running "Clean", or matching the dollars spent for attack ads by an opponent or by an organization backing an opposing candidate.

In Maine, 83% of the state house and 55% of the state senate is now made up of candidates who ran Clean.  In Arizona, 10 out of 11 statewide officials, including the governor, were elected through Clean Money and Clean Campaigns.

Craig Salins of Washington Public Campaigns wrote this piece for Evergreen Politics.  He, like many Washingtonians, has been drawn to participate in making elections in our corner of the country saner. Feel free to contact him if you would like to join in. 

More recently, North Carolina adopted public financing for judicial races, and New Mexico is breaking new ground with public financing for that state's powerful Public Regulation Commission, which regulates corporations and utilities.  California has just recently qualified a similar proposition for the November 2006 ballot.

And now in the Evergreen state, a local organization proposes a similar system:  Washington Public Campaigns, perhaps somewhat timid in the past, is raising its profile and raising the question:  Why should candidates for statewide and district office be beholden to large campaign donors or to lobbyists keeping score for future campaign donation requests?  WPC says public financing of campaigns is essential to breaking the link between big donors and public officials and to restoring the voice of the average citizen in our democracy.  It needs to happen on the federal level, but perhaps state by state is a way to build pressure, the group says, and to show it can work.

WPC is training and fielding a growing army of speakers on their plans and this topic - speakers available to any civic, church or neighborhood group, and the group is seeking to organize local chapters around the state.  (For speakers, or to get involved, visit the website.)  The organization is drafting a proposed law, modeled after Maine and other states but tailored to Washington, which it will offer to the upcoming legislative session, but which may become a citizen initiative if necessary, perhaps in 2007.

Recent lobbying scandals in Congress certainly are fueling interest in this idea.  Is this hapless idealism or a potential political prairie fire?  It may be too soon to know, but wise to pay attention.

Posted by Lynn Allen on June 29, 2006 at 05:09 PM in Policy, Washington Culture | Permalink


I saw a WPC presentation at the Jefferson County Dems monthly meeting and it was quite good. The successes in Maine and Arizona were quite impressive.

The basic idea is candidates become eligible for public funding if they raise some specified amount of $5 contributions and swear off other fundraising. I'm a still unconvinced that it wouldn't just funnel corporate/union/insider money to other outlets like 527s did federally. It would certainly be a big positive however.

Someone from WPC will be at the August Clallam County dem meeting if anyone is reading this out here on the Peninsula.


Posted by: Carl | Jun 30, 2006 9:19:34 PM


Let's not be timid about this theft of the public good. Thank you, Craig!

Posted by: Noemie Maxwell | Jun 30, 2006 9:35:59 PM

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