Frequently Asked Questions About
The movement for comprehensive campaign finance reform is
based on the two bedrock principles of our democracy: political equality
("one person, one vote") and political accountability ("government
of the people, by the people and for the people"). The current system
of campaign finance undermines these basic principles by creating an environment
where candidates must depend on moneyed interests in order to wage a successful
campaign. This dependence allows wealthy special interests too much control
and influence over the legislative process, and leaves ordinary voters shut
out of the system.
Clean Money Campaign Finance Reform
No law can completely stop the influence of money in
politics. However, it is possible to create a genuine and meaningful alternative
to the current system, one that would allow candidates to run for office
without being beholden to wealthy special interests for their success.
A Clean Money Campaign Reform program will provide such an alternative.
Of course, the idea of publicly financing elections raises a lot of questions.
Here are answers to some of those questions.
(1) What is Clean Money Campaign Reform?
Clean Money Campaign Reform provides qualifying candidates who agree to
limit their spending and reject contributions from private sources with
a set amount of public funds to run for office. It is a model reform for
both federal and state races and versions of it have already passed in
four states: Maine, Arizona, Massachusetts and Vermont. While elements
of the plan vary according to local circumstances, in general, participating
candidates must accept strict spending and fundraising limits and in return
are rewarded with public-funding authorized by local voters for the primary
and general elections.
Clean Money Campaign Reform is not an attempt to patch up the current
system, but instead is designed as an alternative to it. By ending politicians'
reliance on special interest money and offering in its place a limited
but competitive amount of money from a Clean Money fund, Clean Money Campaign
Reform provides an alternative way for candidates to finance their campaigns
and escape the escalating money chase that turns off voters and creates
distrust of the electoral process.
(2) Is it constitutional?
Yes. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, public financing of election
campaigns -- a key component of Clean Money Campaign Reform -- is constitutional
as long as the system is voluntary. Candidates do not have to choose Clean
Money. They can reject public funds and continue to finance their campaigns
the "old-fashioned" way, by raising private money.
(3) What makes you think candidates will opt-in to a Clean Money system?
There are strong incentives for candidates to choose a Clean Money system.
No elected official likes having to spend so much time raising money,
year in and year out. No challenger looks forward to the task of trying
to raise the huge sums of money being spent today. In fact, these obstacles
discourage many good candidates from running for office. Moreover, what
candidate or elected official enjoys the public perception, if not the
reality, that they are compromised by their acceptance of large contributions
from special interests?
(4) Will candidates receive enough money to run a competitive campaign?
Yes. Candidates who choose Clean Money funding get the equivalent of what
is being spent, on average, today. The actual dollar amounts are lower
because the candidates no longer have certain expenses. Clean Money candidates
do not have to spend any money on fundraising mailings, phone calls, or
exclusive, high priced dinners. Actually, Clean Money Campaign Reform
helps hold down the overall cost of campaigns.
(5) Won't Clean Money candidates still get outspent by wealthy, self-financed
candidates who do not need to fundraise and can spend as much as they
No. Under Clean Money Campaign Reform, participating candidates get a
dollar-for- dollar match, up to a set limit, if a non-participating opponent
spends more than the basic public financing grant. This won't mean an
unlimited amount of money in case their opponent is a billionaire. But
as recent history shows, there is a limit to how much buying of an election
the public will tolerate.
(6) Doesn't Clean Money Campaign Reform force candidates to participate
and penalize them if they do not?
No. Candidates have a choice: they can run under a Clean Money system
or the current system. If they choose private funding, they are not bound
by any of the Clean Money provisions and can fundraise however they wish,
although they must abide by the current laws on contribution limits and
reporting. What Clean Money does is provide an alternative to the special-interest
money system that undermines the basic idea that each person has an equal
voice in our democracy rather than just the elite few who give big campaign
contributions. Candidates have another way to run for office and voters
have a clearer choice at the voting booth and the assurance that their
interests come first.
(7) How much will Clean Money Campaign Reform cost? And how will it
be paid for?
States that have passed Clean Money Reform have used a variety of ways
to finance the program, from using fines in court to income tax form check-offs.
Each state has been able to do this without raising taxes or burdening
the average person, because the cost of a Clean Money program is infinitely
small compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars lost each year to
loopholes, giveaways, and special interest legislation tailor made for
(8) Won't the public see Clean Money Campaign Reform as just another
government spending program, or worse, a "welfare program" for
Clearly, the public distrusts politicians, and taxpayers are wary of new
public expenditures. However, Clean Money Campaign Reform can save taxpayers
money. The wealthy individuals and powerful corporations who supply most
of the money for campaigns are the recipients of billions of dollars of
unnecessary tax loopholes, subsidies, and regulatory exemptions. By eliminating
candidates' dependence on these big-money donors, Clean Money Campaign
Reform will make it more likely that politicians will be able to say no
to these kinds of costly give-aways.
(9) Modern campaigns are run on television, which is an increasingly
expensive medium. Can candidates afford TV time if they choose to rely
on Clean Money funding?
Clean Money candidates for state office will receive enough funding to
buy broadcast time. The amount they receive will be based on the average
of what has been spent on previous elections.
(10) Won't the same people as before run and win political office under
Clean Money Campaign Reform?
Clean Money Campaign Reform encourages more competitive elections, especially
because it provides funding for party primaries as well as for general
election campaigns. It enables candidates with no personal wealth or access
to big financial contributors to, in almost every instance, run for office
with the same financial resources as candidates with close ties to big
money. This kind of level playing field is not possible under the current
(11) Won't Clean Money Campaign Reform enable "fringe candidates"
to run for office with public money?
While the public has a right to support whomever it wants, the qualifying
requirements are stiff enough to deter fringe candidates with little or
no public support from getting Clean Money. Some form of public financing
already exists in 22 states and a number of municipalities. Where these
systems are in place, the fears about public money spurring many fringe
candidacies have proven to be unfounded. When Maine and Arizona enacted
the Clean Election program in the 2000 election over 170 Republicans,
Democrats, and Independents opted into the program.
(12) Won't a Clean Money system open the ballot to so many people that
there may not be enough money in the Clean Money fund?
Many states are actually having a severe shortage in candidates running
for office. This is due in large part to the overwhelming amount of money
necessary to run for public office - amounts that most people don't have
access too. In North Carolina's 2000 election, 35% of legislative seats
went uncontested! That means that voters had no power on election day
in over 1 in 3 legislative races.
One of the goals of Clean Money Campaign Reform is to open up the election
system to qualified candidates by establishing a financially-level playing
field. But, the qualifying requirements are meant to be stiff enough so
that anybody considering a run for office will think long and hard about
the seriousness of their efforts before embarking on a campaign. It is
therefore unlikely that "too many" candidates will qualify for
Clean Money funds.
(13) Doesn't Clean Money Campaign Reform violate the First Amendment
by suppressing political speech?
The last thing that this reform is about is suppressing anyone's speech.
It's a voluntary system designed to give a voice to those candidates who
do not have personal fortunes or access to special-interest contributions.
Our political debate not to mention our democracy can only be strengthened
and diversified by this expansion of the political franchise. We're not
silencing anyone; we're adding new voices and more balance to a discussion
that today is dominated by wealthy special interests.
(14) What's wrong with a system of matching funds for primary elections,
like the presidential system?
The 1996 presidential primaries, like the ones before it, made it abundantly
clear that providing matching money neither eliminates the money chase
nor candidates' obligation to the special interests who give most of the
money. Under a matching fund system, raising special-interest money still
determines who is the viable candidate. Clean Money Campaign Reform, on
the other hand, eliminates candidates' need for special-interest money.