“We Clean Elections pioneers are a more independent bunch, especially because we’re not worrying about how we’re going to raise the big bucks to win our next race. Lobbyists for special interests tend to spend less time with us, which makes it easier to get through the Capitol halls in time for a vote.”
What are Clean and Fair Elections?
Clean and Fair Elections – known as “Voter-Owned Elections” in Portland, OR, and “Clean Elections” in Arizona, Maine and Albuquerque, NM – is a voluntary system of full public financing of campaigns. It is a practical, proven reform that puts voters in control of the electoral process. Candidates must demonstrate broad public support by collecting a set amount of signatures and $5 donations from voters in their district. Once the campaign starts, they accept no further money from private sources. Thus they can qualify for full public funding for their campaigns, freeing them from the burden of fund raising, and allowing them to spend time with constituents talking about community issues. Once in office, these public officials can discuss legislation on its merits, without worrying about pleasing well-funded lobbyists or wealthy donors. This system is both a constitutional and effective way to change “business as usual” in politics. It also levels the political playing field, giving ordinary citizens, not rich or otherwise connected to big money, a fair shot at running for office. The amount of public funding received is usually determined by the average cost of a race for that office over the last few election cycles. Built into the system are extra "fair fight" funds to keep candidates competitive if they are outspent by a non-publicly financed opponent, or targeted by independent expenditures.
What we have now in San Francisco
San Francisco has a voluntary system of partial public financing in place for the Supervisors' and Mayor's races. It’s a step in the right direction, but it is a matching-funds system that continues to reward the best fundraisers with the most money, and does not eliminate the incessant money chase for either candidates or office-holders.
Our goals and what we've been doing to reach them
In San Francisco, volunteers have been building support for the Fair Elections Now Act in the U.S. Senate, which has recently been re-introduced. President Obama, who was a co-sponsor of the bill, has pledged to make it a priority of his administration - but there are obstacles: the Supreme Court with its heinous Citizens United decision last year allowing unlimited anonymous corporate donations, and the extremist, corporatist House of Representatives.
Our San Francisco volunteers did an incredible job campaigning for the California Fair Elections Act (Proposition 15), the pilot bill that would have provided a full public financing option for candidates for Secretary of State. Having passed the State Assembly, Senate and having been signed by the Governor, Prop 15 won 75% of the vote in SF County on the June 2010 ballot (highest in the state), and won in other Bay Area counties too - but, alas, ultimately lost.
The statewide loss of Prop 15 has been attributed in part to the influence of deceptive slate mailers (we only got a couple here in SF) advocating No on 15, some of which sleazily implied that the Democratic Party did not endorse Prop 15. To help combat these and other crimes against democracy (see Citizens United above), Assemblywoman Julia Brownley introduced AB 1148, the California DISCLOSE Act, now re-introduced as AB 1648, which would mandate revealing who is really paying for a political ad, on the ad itself. It's before the Legislature now. The most important thing we can do right now is expand our base by gathering signatures of support for the DISCLOSE Act. Check our Events Calendar for how and where you can help pass the DISCLOSE Act.