The results of the Nov. 3 elections – from Washington to Maine – bring good news for democracy reform in 2016 and beyond. Voters everywhere are fed up with money in politics, and the latest election results prove that when we the people come together, we can beat Big Money and bring balance back to our democracy.
In Maine, voters passed Question 1, an initiative strengthening the state’s public financing system for statewide and legislative campaigns. Citizens United and other court decisions had seriously undermined Maine’s 19-year-old “clean elections” law.
Rather than give up, voters in Maine decided to fix it. The initiative strengthens disclosure requirements on political spending, toughens penalties for violating campaign finance laws, and modernizes the state’s Clean Elections Fund, which provides public funds to candidates who reject PAC money and run on a base of small-dollar donations from individuals.
On the same night, Seattle voters approved Initiative 122, an “honest elections” initiative that would tighten campaign finance laws and give every registered voter $100 in vouchers to contribute to local candidates of their choice. Participating candidates may accept no more than $250 from a single donor and will be required to observe spending caps.
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These results demonstrate that we the people are ready to embrace new solutions to the age-old problem of money in politics.
At California Common Cause, curbing the corrosive influence of special interest money is a top priority for our members. We’re working with leaders across the state to put voters back in the driver’s seat:
▪ In Los Angeles, we’re supporting an effort to strengthen the city’s 25-year-old public campaign finance system. The independent L.A. Ethics Commission has recommended changes that would incentivize city candidates to seek small donations from city residents, instead of wealthy special interest donors.
▪ In Berkeley, we’re endorsing the city council’s plan to put a Fair Elections Act before voters in 2016. Under that proposal, candidates who accept only donations of $50 or less, and only from city residents, would receive matching funds, allowing candidates to spend more time talking with voters about their concerns.
▪ Here in Sacramento, we’re collaborating with the League of Women Voters and other community leaders to bring about comprehensive ethics and good government reform. The city council has adopted an outline of reforms which includes updating the city’s campaign finance rules, and is in the process of drafting those new laws.
▪ And we’re building support to modernize California’s statewide campaign finance law, the Political Reform Act. In recent years, we’ve won important updates to that law, including tougher rules to prevent “secret money” from passing through undisclosed organizations before it lands in California campaigns.
In the future, we’ll work to help voters understand where campaign funding comes from, and to make it easier for a broader pool of Californians to run for office.
So many Americans are disheartened about the recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Citizens United case that eliminated regulation of political spending by outside entities that are not coordinated with the candidate’s campaign. Nationally, unregulated political spending is at an all-time high. We need reforms like these so the voices of everyday voters aren’t completely drowned out by the big money flood.
But piece by piece and city by city, we’re strengthening the levees of our democracy. From city halls to the Capitol, we are working on adopting innovative approaches to give all Americans the ability to be heard. The returns from Maine and Seattle suggest there is common ground and voters are ready to act. Left, right and center, everyone has had enough of politics that serves only the interests of big political donors.
And now, we are doing something about it.
Gavin Baker of Sacramento is the open-government program manager with California Common Cause.