Grassroots activists push for reform across U.S.
As reform measures meet gridlock in Washington, grassroots activists have taken the lead in many states by advancing Clean Money Campaign Reform (CMCR) proposals to cut special interest influence in government and stop skyrocketing campaign spending.
Maine and Vermont have already enacted Clean Money Campaign Reform, and other states are likely to follow in the coming few years.
In November 1996, Maine voters passed the Maine Clean Election Act. The next June, Vermont's legislature became the first to pass Clean Money Campaign Reform.
Both states' bills provide strict curbs on special interest money and strong legal caps on campaign expenditures. The work done in these two states serve as models for CMCR advocates nationwide.
Under the new Maine Clean Election Act, which will go into effect in the year 2000, candidates who show citizen support by collecting a set number of $5 qualifying contributions from voters within their districts are eligible for fixed and equal campaign funding from the Clean Election Fund.
Candidates must forgo all private contributions (including from themselves), and limit their spending to the amount from the fund. They are also given an additional one-for-one match if they are outspent by non-complying opponents or are the target of independent expenditures, such as ads produced by a group not associated with the opposing candidate.
Candidates who reject the option of Clean Money or who fail to qualify may still collect private money under the existing system. The measure applies to state legislative contests and the race for governor. The Clean Elections Act has successfully withstood initial court challenges by reform opponents.
The Maine initiative campaign developed after the state legislature rejected more than 40 reform proposals during the previous decade while campaign costs for state offices soared. Eleven-hundred grassroots volunteers collected more than 65,000 signatures on Election Day 1995 to place the measure on the state ballot.
Supporters included Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, the AFL-CIO, the American Association of Retired Persons and the Maine Council of Churches.
The Vermont bill offers a public financing option to candidates running for governor and lieutenant governor in the year 2000, and commissions a study to consider extending the option to other state offices after the 2000 elections.
The legislation provides a fixed amount of Clean Money to qualifying gubernatorial candidates, and sets a $300,000 spending limit for all candidates running for governor. It also limits spending for all other state races.
Other states are not far behind Maine and Vermont. In 14 states from Massachusetts to Arizona, from Georgia to Oregon, grassroots coalitions and reform-minded legislators are pursuing a similar path. In South Carolina, the discussion is just getting started (see related story).