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Clean Money Public Financing of Campaigns

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Clean Money Public Financing of Campaigns

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The Problem:

With over $2 billion in campaign contributions for state elections in 2004, there is really no way the political process will be cleaned up without dealing with the fundamental source of corrupt politics -- the funding of our elections by narrow corporate interests. As the failure of McCain-Feingold to stem the money flow to politicians at the federal level has shown, mere tinkering with contribution limits and disclosure doesn't accomplish much. As long as politicians need to raise millions of dollars from monied interests, the corruption of the political process will continue. Politicians inevitably serve those who help them get elected and if the public doesn't finance elections, the politicians won't serve the public interest. And since lobbyist money often flows to incumbents, the corruption of politics by money means fewer competitive elections and more voter alienation.

"Clean Money" Best Practices:

Luckily, states like Maine and Arizona have pioneered public financing systems for state legislative elections that have fundamentally diminished the role of special interest money -- and Connecticut just voted to join them this past December. North Carolina has introduced public financing of judicial races and a number of cities use public financing in their local elections. How It Works: The "Clean Money" systems in the states require candidates to collect a set number of small $5 contributions to establish their broad-based support, after which they are supplied with enough public money to run a viable campaign -- as long as they agree not to accept any other outside money for their campaign. The result was that in 2004 more than 80% of legislative candidates in Maine and 56% of candidates in Arizona rejected all private money for their elections, freeing them from the grasp of big spending interests. Clean money reforms not only undermine the power of big money contributors, they free candidates to spend less time fundraising -- meaning they spend less time hanging out with lobbyists and more time with regular voters hearing about their concerns. Funding Clean Money Funds: Maine uses $2 million from the state's general fund to finance its clean elections system. In Arizona, the Clean Elections Fund is supported by a 10 percent surcharge on civil and criminal fines. Both states also have a tax check-off option for people to designate on their state tax returns. Similar to the federal tax check-off for the presidential campaign, a taxpayer may designate that $5 in Arizona or $3 in Maine go to the Clean Elections Fund. In addition, Arizona offers a voluntary tax credit of up to $500 and voluntary contributions are accepted for the funds in both states. Dealing with Non-Participating Candidates: Candidates receiving public financing who are outspent by privately financed opponents should be entitled to a limited amount of matching funds.

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