Clean Money 101
The basics of publicly funded elections
How does Clean Money work?
Clean Money levels the playing field and reduces the influence of special interest money. Qualified candidates who agree to spending limits and to raise little or no private money can receive a limited amount of public money. Candidates qualify by demonstrating broad public support from their districts.
How do they demonstrate support?
Participating candidates must raise a large number of small contributions in a limited period of time. The details vary from state to state and from office to office. For example, a candidate for state Senate in Maine must collect 150 qualifying contributions of $5 each from voters in the district.
Is Clean Money voluntary?
Yes. Under the governing case in campaign finance law, Buckley v. Valeo, the only constitutional way to set spending limits is to provide candidates the incentive to limit their own spending. Clean Money provides full public funding in exchange for candidates voluntarily agreeing to limit their own spending.
What happens to candidates who limit their spending when they run against those who don't?
Clean Money reform provides additional matching funds for participating candidates who face someone who exceeds the voluntary spending limits. For example, if you and I are running against each other, and I'm a Clean candidate, and you're raising and spending more than what I have, then I receive matching funds to keep pace up to a certain limit.
We don't want unlimited spending, so we cap it two or three times the original spending limit. It doesn't stop you from spending as much as you want. It does provide a qualified participant the chance to compete.
Are these laws constitutional?
These laws have received a clean bill of constitutional health from both federal and state courts.
How much would this cost?
In the states where this system has been implemented, it has cost less than one-tenth of one percent of the state budget. None of the laws passed by initiative have resulted in tax increases. A federal system would cost every taxpayer about $10 a year.
What about soft money?
Clean Money is a comprehensive approach. Not only does it provide candidates with a clean, alternative source of financing, it also addresses the major problems with the existing system. Clean Money legislation closes the soft money loophole and tightens regulation of so-called "issue ads." It also would provide participating candidates with free and discounted broadcast advertising.
Where is Clean Money in place and working?
Clean Money is the law in four states. Close to 200 candidates are running under a Clean Money system this year in Maine, Arizona and Vermont. Massachusetts will have its first election under its new law in 2002. Voters in Oregon and Missouri will be voting on ballot measures this November.
What feedback is there from voters in those states so far?
Candidates for office are spending their time talking to voters rather than dialing for dollars. Voters have more choices at the ballot box. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of contested races in Arizona and Maine, and there is a third-party candidate running in Vermont for governor, along with several third-party and independent candidates running for state legislature in Maine and Arizona.
More women are running for office as "clean" candidates which is important because women have always had a harder time raising money. New people are seeking office under clean election laws, as are many incumbent officeholders. In Maine, several candidates are people who not so long ago were on welfare, or working minimum-wage jobs. These reform measures allow candidates of all backgrounds including those who have little access to wealth to run competitively for office.