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January 06, 2007

Clean Campaigns: Can it happen Here?

Last July I wrote a post about David Sirota's latest book tour, and how special interest money and politics have become inseparable bedfellows. In Sirota's view, everything that happens in D.C. can be boiled down to how the moneymen dictate the content of - and directly benefit from - all the legislation that passes in Congress. That's a disaster for citizens. But the tide may slowly be turning, as states like Maine and Arizona put the reins of power back in the hands of the people, by instituting "clean elections". The results, so far, are very impressive.

Sirota and a panel of legislators were on hand for a Town Hall forum last night (sponsored by Washington Public Campaigns) to promote the idea of public financing of elections for Washington State. Maine State Representative Linda Valentino and Arizona State Senator Ed Ableser made their case: It currently costs less than $3.00 per person per year to set up a fund (it could go into a general fund or a dedicated fund) that contributes enough money to run a primary and a general election campaign. The fund pays for everything, including advertising, though most candidates using clean campaign money choose to spend less on ads, and devote their time and energy knocking on as many as 10,000 doors in taking their case directly to the voters. It's a purely volunteer system, so if you campaign using public funding while your opponent chooses to continue down the path of begging for money from corporations, no matter - you get matching funds for the amount received by your groveling opponent, you can use it as you see fit and he's still free to grovel as he likes. Of course, the best result of the clean campaign method is that its winners no longer feel beholden to special interests, have no qualms about kicking lobbyists out of their offices, and can then go sponsor and pass the legislation they really believe is best for their constituencies.

Representative democracy - what a concept.

Four of our Washington State reps were also on the panel. They all spoke of the temptations of special interest money, and how hard it is to resist. Rep. Mark Miloscia (30th leg. district) admitted, "I feel my integrity is tested everyday". The first challenge to the status quo will come next week when Representative Shay Schual-Berke (33rd leg. district) sponsors legislation calling for public financing of all Supreme Court and Appellate Court judicial races. After the BIAW's disgusting million dollar attempts to destroy Gerry Alexander's career last November (and don't forget the corruption of contributions in two other judicial races) the governor has already signaled her support for the legislation. It's a step in the right direction. Now let's see Washingtonians show the same guts that Mainers and Arizonans have, by supporting public funding of gubenatorial and state legislative races as well.

Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano was elected twice in a row with public financing.

For those naysayers who will still protest that it can't work, dry your eyes and consider this: when Maine's public financing began in the year 2000, 33% of all candidates campaigned using the new system. By 2006 - just six years later - 83% of all candidates ran using "clean campaigns". That goes for Democrats, Republicans and Green Party candidates. According to Rep. Valentino, the politicians like it, the political parties like it, businesses like it, and the people like it. Sounds like a winner all the way around.

So, what are Washingtonians waiting for?

Posted by shoephone on January 6, 2007 at 03:05 AM in Taking Action | Permalink


Over at the new Democracy for Snohomish County Blog (http://dfsc.blogspot.com), I have posted on the event we hosted in Everett on Thursday night.

I was at last night's event as well. I left even more inspired to act than when I had come in.

Chad (The Left) Shue

Posted by: Chad (The Left) Shue | Jan 6, 2007 3:41:09 PM

Chad - thanks for the link, I just finished reading your post. It really is amazing to think that for about $3.00 per person we could have real people-powered democracy. Seems so easy and yet... all the usual supsects will be lining up against it.

Like you, I think this one is achievable.

Joe McDermott may get more support if his fellow colleagues hear from their own constituents clamoring for a change. As Sirota said, "nothing happens overnight". After all, it took the WA State Legislature 17 years to pass a bill mandating real oversight of many of the state's tax preferences for business.

Posted by: shoephone | Jan 6, 2007 7:18:41 PM

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