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Frequently Asked Questions About
Clean Money Campaign Finance Reform

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.

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 want?

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 campaign contributors.


(8) Won't the public see Clean Money Campaign Reform as just another government spending program, or worse, a "welfare program" for politicians?

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 system.


(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.

 

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