Campaign Finance Reform ~ Get Big Money Out of Politics
Money has always played a role in American politics, but in recent years big money has become the primary currency of democracy. Before voters ever cast their ballots, wealthy campaign contributors vote with their wallets, effectively deciding which candidates will have the resources to run serious campaigns. Nearly all candidates (except the rich) are dependent on this funding. The results are devastating:
- Campaigns cost too much money
- Elected officials spend too much time raising money
- The special interest that provide most of the money for political campaign have too much say over lawmakers
- Good people don't have a fair chance to compete
This issue should matter to everyone who wants to revitalize democracy and ensure that the views of average Americans and grassroots organizations have an equal footing in public debate. Community organizations, constituency groups, and issue advocates will never be able to raise as much money as groups representing wealthy special interests and the status quo.
That is why reformers and public interest advocates of all stripes are fighting for real campaign finance reform. It is time to break the link between special interest contributors and elected officials.
- Spending is out of control. In 1998, a NON-presidential election year, campaign contributions broke the billion dollar mark for the first time in history. In 2000, just two years later, campaign spending MORE THAN DOUBLED, totaling approximately $2.9 billion.
- Money determines who is elected. In 1996, nine out of ten candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives who outspent their opponents went on to win the election. In the Senate, the numbers were similar, with nearly eight of ten winning seats.
- Campaign contributions come largely from big-money special interest groups and individuals. A recent study of contributors who make contributions of at least $200 shows that these contributors are not at all typical of most Americans. More than nine out of ten are white. Four-fifths are male. More than four-fifths are 45 years or older. Most significantly, 80% of donors reported an annual family income of $100,000 or more, and only one in twenty had incomes of less than $50,000. To put it in perspective, only 10% of the general public has a family income exceeding $100K, and almost two-thirds have incomes under $50,000.
- Money shapes public policy. For example, the oil and gas industry contributed about $32.4 million to candidates and political parties in 2000. Consequently, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was protected from drilling and development by only the slimmest of margins in 2001.
Amid the many confusing campaign finance reform proposals, one common sense solution stands out: Clean Money Campaign Reform. It has already been passed into law in four states- Maine, Arizona, Vermont, and Massachusetts- and is gaining major support in a dozen others, including Iowa.
This reform does not patch up the existing system; instead, it offers a new alternative: VOLUNTARY PUBLIC FINANCING. Under a Clean Money system, candidates would receive a set amount of public financing for their election campaigns if they reject private money, limit their spending, and shorten their campaigns.
This system allows candidates to run for public office without compromising their independence, since they won't have to ask for money from those who have a vested interest in public policy. It offers candidates who are short on connections but long on competence a level playing field on which to run. And for those candidates who do not wish to participate, they may continue to raise and spend private money for their campaigns, just as they do today.
What would it take to buy back our government from big money special interests? Estimates on the cost of Clean Money Reform, enacted at the federal level for all Congressional candidates range between $6.50 and $10.00 per taxpayer per year.
Whether the concern is our environment, health care or fair taxes, Clean Money Campaign Reform is the key that unlocks government to the changes we're fighting for. Comprehensive reform will also restore fairness and equity to our political system. It is high time that we replace the current campaign finance system of elections as auctions, with a system that reflects the underlying principle of our democracy - "one person, one vote."
The wheels came off our efforts for campaign finance reform in the course of this very intensely contentious legislative session. The contribution limits legislation we crafted with input from legislative leadership did not make it through this year.
- ICAN is a member of the Voter Owned Iowa Clean Elections (VOICE) coalition.
- Additional information of clean money clean elections available from Public Campaign.
- Report: Enron: A Case Study of Why We Need Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform
- FAQ: Clean Money Basics