Thursday, June 1, 2006
If the 2006 elections unfold similarly to the 2002 elections, then money will appear to be the determining factor in the majority of the races. An analysis of the state’s election four years ago shows that candidates who outspent their rivals in both the primary and general elections came out victorious more than 95 percent of the time.
Those stats are sobering to Susan Lerner, executive director of the California Clean Money Campaign, which sponsored the analysis. For years, Lerner has been working with state legislators to pass a “clean money” bill that would allow candidates to forgo private money and accept a limited amount of public cash to run their election campaigns.
The idea that private contributions influence elected officials is quite old, as is the idea of divorcing the two for the good of democracy. In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt spoke of a similar plan. “The need for collecting large campaign funds would vanish if Congress provided an appropriation for the proper and legitimate expenses of each of the great national parties,” he said.
State Assembly Bill 583, spearheaded by Assemblywoman Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), passed the Assembly in January. The bill would give candidates the option to pay for a campaign with public money as long as they could raise a certain number of $5 donations. But many of the bill’s details are unknown. Those are being painstakingly hammered out in the state Senate, where a vote on the bill in the Senate Elections Committee is slated for June 21.
One of the two big unknowns about AB 583 is where the approximately $200 million in needed public financing funds will come from. Another unresolved issue is how to handle independent expenditures, like issue ads that indirectly back specific candidates.
Hancock says clean money is a bipartisan issue and voters are skeptical of today’s political class. “More than 70 percent of Californians said the state is being run by big interests,” she says.
Ultimately, AB 583 may not need the Senate’s approval.
In May, the California Nurses Association submitted more than 600,000 signatures to place a clean money proposition on November’s ballot—an election that will undoubtedly and ironically result in the spending of millions of campaign dollars.