06/22/2006 Clean Elections: Good Politics

Thursday, June 22, 2006

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Clean Elections: Good Politics

We already knew that clean elections were good policy. In fact, we brought together over 100 policymakers and activists in New Hampshire to spread the word on clean elections (see the resulting Resource Sheet). Now, new polling data shows that clean elections are also good politics. Polling undertaken for Public Campaign Action Fund and Common Cause shows that Americans overwhelmingly (74%) support public financing.

The result is bipartisan with 80% of Democrats, 78% of Independents, and 65% of Republicans support this reform.

What's important to emphasize is why voters said things would improve with public financing of elections.

  • 82% of voters believe it is likely, as a result of publicly financed elections, that candidates will win on their ideas, not because of the money they raise.
  • 79% said it would allow candidates with good ideas rather than just the rich and powerful to have a shot at winning elections.
  • 77% said that special interests would not receive as many favors, tax breaks and deals from politicians.

This last point is important. Public financing of elections are NOT a policy that will increase government spending; in fact, it's almost guaranteed to pay for itself many times over with less tax and government contract giveaways and more honest, cheaper services. 77% of the public recognize that our present system of legalized bribery costs the public every day, so replacing it with public financing will be a cost-saver.

Q & A With David Donnelly of Public Campaign Action Fund

Since its founding, Public Campaign and its sister organization Public Campaign Action Fund have been the go-to organizations on issues of public financing of elections. David Donnelly, the National Campaigns Director for Public Campaign Action Fund, agreed to chat about their new polling data and what it takes to get clean elections laws enacted.

Progressive States: What’s the gist of the new polling on public financing?

David Donnelly: There’s overwhelming support for public financing policy that includes spending limits and ends dependence on private money.... Support is at 74 or 75%. It crosses all demographic lines, all party lines. Among Republicans, it’s 65%. It’s just off the charts. Just wide margins, every way you splice the data.

PS: What messages are most effective with the public when discussing public financing?

DD: There’s two kinds of messages that work very well in motivating the public in supporting this. Although, as you can tell they don’t need a whole lot of information about the policy, they need to know that there’s spending limits and that public money is replacing private money for qualified candidates.

The message that works well is what the voters get in exchange. It’s about what’s happened with our values as a result of the big money, it’s about voters getting a voice because the money drowns it out. It’s about being able to run for office without knowing rich friends.

And the other message is about the impact of money on politics. That decisions are made by those in office and the decisions that get made help the people with money instead of the people back home.

Both those messages, about participation about voters wanting control and about the benefits of limiting private money, both of those messages work very well.

PS: A few states already have clean elections systems, what does it take to get public financing passed?

DD: The coalitions are often built with two different things in mind. One is self-interest. Organizations need to see a self-interest in this. And people need to have their values. There’s a lot of membership organizations ”“ labor unions, grassroots organizations ”“ who are advocating for their members and want their members to have more control over the electoral process. So on a self-interest level, it’s an easy argument to make.

In terms of values, we all know that our current system is a complete mess and that it values people who have money over people who don’t. And that doesn’t match up well with one-person, one-vote. It doesn’t match up well with the values of this country....

We want elections to be much more about the candidate’s vision and the voters than about donors and their dollars. That’s where clean elections puts politics on an even playing field.

PS: What can people expect if they see clean elections pass in their own state?

DD: I can give you one example in Arizona. These laws are relatively new. The Governor promised on the campaign trail, running as a clean candidate, said she didn’t have to listen to pharmaceutical companies and that she could lower the cost of prescription drugs. She got into office and one of the first things she did was sign an executive order to let the state buy drugs in bulk for Medicaid, which saved money for the state. There’s a sense that voters have more control in those two states. So there’s other anecdotal stuff, but that’s the clearest example of it.

More Resources


IL: Chicago Advances Ordinance to Raise Wages

Recently, in our Stateside Dispatch highlighting alternative strategies to raise wages around the country, we highlighted a proposed ordinance with widespread support in Chicago. That proposal -- which raises the bar on wages for large retailers -- has now passed through the city's finance committee and is moving closer to a vote of the full council.

Sponsored in its original form by Alderman Joe Moore (Ward 49), the ordinance in question would require large retailers to pay at least $10 an hour in wages and $3 per hour in benefits. Wal-Mart has threatened to not expand into the city if the measure passes, but made similar threats in Maryland before that state passed its "fair share" bill, yet the company continues to expand its operations there.

In fact, a poll of Chicagoans shows that the measure is backed by 84% of the city's residents. Nearly 70% continue to support the ordinance even when told that Wal-Mart is threatening to not build new stores if the measure passes.

More Resources


CA: San Francisco Proposes Universal Health Care

The City of San Francisco is taking steps to provide health care to all of its 82,000 uninsured residents, paid for by a combination of public money and assessments on employers that do not provide health care for their employees:

Residents would pay both monthly fees and service co-payments on a sliding scale depending on income. A person with annual earnings at the federal poverty line would pay $3 per month, while someone who makes between $19,600 and $40,000 - or up to 400 percent above the poverty line - would pay an average of $35 per month...

The most recent version [of the legislation], sponsored by Supervisor Tom Ammiano, would require every business with more than 20 employees to pay $1.60 an hour into the system for all employees not already covered by a health plan, no matter how few hours they work.

A version of this "pay or play" or "fair share" approach to providing health care was narrowly defeated in a statewide initiative in 2004, but San Francisco voters supported the idea by 70%. So it's natural for the city to implement a version locally.

For more on the Fair Share model, see Progressive States' LegAlert on the topic.

More Resources


Health Insurance, Child Abuse, Conservation, and Banking Discrimination

According to a new report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation has made some improvement in providing health insurance in the last few years, with 14.2 percent without coverage in 2005 compared to 15.4 percent in 1997, largely due to greater coverage of children. Still, 41.2 million people still lack health coverage and, coverage in different states ranges from 6 percent without health insurance in Massachusetts to over 24 percent lacking health insurance in Texas.

Overall across the country, states and local governments have been increasing spending for children who are victims of abuse and neglect, but according to the Urban Institute, thirteen states have actually been cutting money for their child welfare systems. The linked report explores why there is such variation in spending in different states.

The Trust for Public Land has created an online Almanac of Conservative Statistics, which reviews state and federal conservation statistics for 13 western states with overviews of state policy frameworks for funding land conservation. The goal is to expand it into a national review of both statistics and policies for protecting the land.

Why do blacks and latinos receive worse rates when they apply for mortgages? A new report by the Center for Responsible Lending disproves the banking industry's speculation that it was due to worse credit histories. In fact, the study found that, even factoring in credit histories and other risk factors, "borrowers of color...were more than 30 percent more likely to receive a higher-rate loan than white borrowers."

Clean Elections

Public Campaign Action Fund, "Bipartisan Poll Shows Strong Support for Public Financing and Voters First Pledge"
Progressive States Network, Clean Money Public Financing of Campaigns
Americans for Campaign Reform, Just 6 Dollars
Democracy Matters
Common Cause

IL: Chicago Advances Ordinance to Raise Wages

Alderman Joe Moore, Chief Sponsor
Ald. Joe Moore, Text of Original Proposed Ordinance
Progressive States Network, "Beyond the Minimum Wage: New Policies to Raise Wages"
Progressive States Network, "Cracking Down on Wage Law Violations"

CA: San Francisco Proposes Universal Health Care

Americans for Health Care
AFL-CIO, Fair Share Health Care
Progressive States Network, "LegAlert: Fair Share Health Care"

Eye on the Right

Opponents of Chicago's groundbreaking wage ordinance are threatening law suits claiming that the measure violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution. Chicagoans may not have much to fear from this claim, though. As we noted in a previous Dispatch on wage issues, courts across the country have given a big thumbs up to targeted wage regulations. Still, if you can't beat 'em with the facts, you might as well resort to the lies -- right?

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Matt Singer
Editor, Stateside Dispatch