By John Lawrence
Wouldn’t it be nice if money didn’t influence who gets elected and what they do after they get elected? The Clean Elections Initiative aims to get money out of politics so that one vote will truly equal one vote like it’s supposed to in a democracy. Right now money controls elections and lobbyists have too much influence over elected officials which are in turn dependent on rich donors for their campaign funds.
The San Diego Clean Elections Initiative is being sponsored by Neighborhoods for Clean Elections, a grass roots coalition that is aiming to place the Clean Elections Initiative on the 2016 ballot. The initiative, which is also supported by Common Cause, will provide public funding for candidates for mayor and City Council who agree to a Clean Elections Pledge: The pledge requires that they refrain from soliciting any campaign contributions from private sources and that they further agree to refrain from spending any of their own money for their campaign.
Voters in Maine, Arizona, Connecticut and Albuquerque, NM already have Clean Elections. Why not here in San Diego?
We know that neighborhoods are getting shorted while Big Money interests like developers and hoteliers get what they want from City Hall. They even get what they want despite City Hall.
When the City Council came up with a plan to clean up Barrio Logan in the interests of the people who live there, Big Money used the referendum process to overturn their democratically arrived at decision. They did the same when the City Council wanted to raise the minimum wage. They proved that they can buy off the electorate and get any result at the polls they want by simply putting enough money into TV ads. They can also buy off politicians because without big money to pay for TV campaign ads, politicians don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell of getting elected.
If a candidate agrees not to accept private contributions or use his or her own money, they would receive a limited amount (75 cents per resident) of public funding to be used exclusively to campaign. Clean Elections will cost every San Diegan $6 per year, a small price to pay for Clean Government.
“Clean Elections is designed to break the conflict of interest between campaign contributors and candidates,” explained Michael McQuary, chair of Neighborhoods for Clean Elections. “San Diego city government is broken. Developers, lobbyists and special interests get almost everything they want because they grease the palms of the politicians with campaign cash. As a result neighborhoods and ordinary citizens are often left out of the political process. Clean Elections will help clean up San Diego City Hall.”
The San Diego Clean Elections Initiative is modeled after Clean Elections laws already on the books in several cities and states. Maine and Arizona have Clean Elections for state candidates and the City of Albuquerque has implemented Clean Elections for local candidates. Under the Clean Elections model, candidates who pledge to “run Clean” need to qualify for funding. The idea is to eliminate “crank” or marginal candidates in favor of those who can demonstrate community support. In San Diego a “Clean” candidate would be required to collect $5 from 500 voters in his or her district to qualify for funding, and those proceeds would go into the city’s Clean Elections fund.
The San Diego Chapter of the League of Women Voters has announced its endorsement of the San Diego Clean Elections Initiative, chapter co-President Ann Hoiberg said. “Clean Elections would make a fundamental difference in San Diego politics. We need to get money out of San Diego politics and return political power to people and our neighborhoods,” she said.
Candidates would be funded based upon a formula linked to population. These amounts would be on average, less than half of what sucessful council candidates have spent in recent elections. Clean Elections is a voluntary system — candidates who do not wish to opt in may still choose to run under existing rules, collecting funds from private contributors and spending their own funds.
“With Clean Elections, candidates can spend their time knocking on doors and meeting the voters they wish to serve,” Hoiberg said. “They won’t spend all of their time catering to the donor class. We will get candidates who owe their election to their constituency, the voters, instead of their contributors.
It would be nice if we could have publicly funded elections at the national level, but that would be a lot more complicated to bring about. However, it is a real possibility to get money out of politics at the local level and that is what the Clean Elections Initiative is all about. Getting this initiative on the 2016 ballot would be the first step towards a true democracy that would serve the people instead of what we have now – government which is sold to the highest bidder.