The California State Assembly Elections Committee held an informational hearing last Wednesday in downtown Los Angeles to discuss Assembly Bill AB 583, the Clean Money and Fair Elections Act.
The bill, authored by Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, a Democrat from Berkeley, would change existing state law to permit eligible candidates on a voluntary basis to obtain public funds to finance their political campaigns for the legislature and statewide offices.
According to literature obtained from the California Clean Money Campaign, a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that seeks to build statewide support for the bill, candidates would qualify for “Clean Money” campaign funds “by gathering a predetermined number of signatures and $5 contributions from residents in their districts. Once candidates qualified, they would then have to agree to refuse any private contributions and remain publicly funded through both the primary and general election. Candidates could still run under the current system of private financing. No candidate would be required to seek ‘Clean Money’ campaign funds, but it would place caps on donations to non-participating candidates and shorten the election cycle.
“Clean Money” laws have already been passed in Arizona, Maine New Mexico, North Carolina and Vermont. Arizona and Maine have gone through a complete election cycle on “Clean Money,.” and have seen an increase in the number and diversity of qualified candidates running for office.
Representative Phil Lopes, the Minority Leader of the Arizona House of Representatives, testified at the hearing, “Since its adoption, ‘Clean Elections’ has truly opened up the ballot to more candidates and moved us closer to the ideal of the citizen-legislator. By restoring the average person’s faith in government, Clean Elections helps heal the break between people and their representatives.”
The Executive Director of the California Clean Money Campaign, Susan Lerner, stated at the hearing “Clean Money is a workable alternative to big money dominance in politics. Plus it controls the spiraling costs of campaigns, leads to higher voter turnout, and restores people’s trust in their elected representatives.”
The committee also heard from State Senator Richard Alarcon who testified that “ Clean Money would add a much higher level of political accountability to our electoral process and it would free up time for candidates to actually interact with voters…[and free] politicians from the burden of endless fundraising…[so they could] become advocates for their communities…a representation that is more diverse and more reflective of the constituencies we represent.”
Sean Harrigan, Director of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union for Region 8, expressed labor’s support for the bill. He said his organization “feels that California really needs to explore full public funding of elections. This hearing is an excellent opportunity to discuss an innovative way to level the playing field and open the ballot so more good people can run.”The Assembly Elections Committee will vote on AB 583 in January of 2006.