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Hancock Hopes To Finance Elections With 'Clean Money', By: J. Douglas Allen Taylor To Finance Elections with ‘Clean Money’

Friday January 06, 2006

A publicly-financed election reform concept introduced two years ago to Berkeley voters by Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates—and soundly rejected by those voters in the 2004 election—has been reintroduced in the state Legislature by Assemblymember Loni Hancock, with Hancock’s chief of staff saying that “the time is now right” for the issue. 

Hancock’s office is planning a town hall meeting on SB 583 Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Oakland City Council Chambers at Oakland City Hall. A vote on the measure is scheduled in the Assembly Elections and Reapportionment Committee on Tuesday. 

If passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, Hancock’s bill would provide public money for qualifying candidates for state office, both in primaries and in general elections, from $150,000 for assembly candidates in a party primary up to $10 million for gubernatorial candidates in a general election. 

To qualify for the public money, candidates would have to demonstrate that they are “serious” by getting a combination of petition signatures and campaign contributions in small amounts, and would have to agree not to receive any outside contributions once the public contributions kick in. 

Susan King, a spokesperson for the California Green Party, said that “clean money” laws such as that introduced by Hancock “don’t necessarily minimize corporate donations to election campaigns, but help to equalize those contributions.” 

California Green Party Press Secretary Cres Vellucci said that his organization originally opposed Hancock’s bill when it was introduced last year “because it discriminated against small parties.” 

At a Green Party conference at Laney Conference last year, participants complained that some “clean money” laws set qualifying thresholds in such a way that only major party candidates—Democrats or Republicans—could participate. But Vellucci said that it was his understanding that changes have been made to the legislation since then, “but we have not yet taken a position on the amended bill.” 

The provisions of Hancock’s bill are similar to those introduced to Berkeley voters under Measure H by Berkeley Mayor Bates in November of 2004. That measure only won the support of 41 percent of Berkeley voters. Hancock is married to Bates. 

But with concerns over what he called the “massive amounts of campaign contribution money” spent in last November’s California elections as well as the recent guilty plea of “super-lobbyist” Jack Abramoff, Hancock Chief of Staff Hans Hemann said he hopes that the political tide has turned in the state, and the Assemblymember’s bill will have a better chance of passage. 

“There are a lot of other possible election campaign finance reforms, such as mandating disclosure of campaign contributions,” Hemann said. “But the only real way to reform the electoral system is to get the special interest money out. We need to get at the root of the evil.” 

Hancock’s bill would provide a “clean money” campaign alternative in California similar to that in Arizona, where such a system has been in place since a voter initiative was passed in 1998. 

The nonprofit, nonpartisan Clean Elections Institute of Arizona reported that more than half of the candidates ran with only “clean money” in that state’s primary and general elections last year, with 68 percent of the minority candidates in the primary running a “clean money” campaign. The organization reported that results by “clean money” and traditionally-financed candidates were similar, with 76 percent of the “clean money” and 74 percent of the traditionally-financed candidates winning in the primary, and 55 percent of the “clean money” and 66 percent of the traditionally-financed candidates winning in the general election. 

“Clean money” legislative office winners have jumped significantly in the last two years in Arizona, with 47 percent of the legislators winning with “clean money” in 2004, up 11 percentage points from 2002. 

Green Party spokesperson King said that while she had not yet seen the details of Hancock’s bill, “the Green Party firmly endorses the clean money campaign. Corporate donations are one of the biggest problems with elections. We feel that the public financing mechanism is the best way to ensure that grassroots citizens can run credible campaigns.” 

But King said the Green Party did not think campaign reform should end with the institution of “clean money.” 

“It’s a good start,” she said. “In the electoral reform arena, it’s the lower-hanging fruit. It gives grassroots candidates a leg up.” 

But King said that the Green Party would eventually like to see “a wide range” of electoral reforms in the state, including statewide Instant Runoff Voting, and “setting up at-large, proportional representation legislative districts that would be more representative of citizens’ interests than the present single seat winner-take-all system.” 

King also said that “real campaign finance reform must ultimately get corporate influence completely out of the electoral arena. That’s the big issue.” 

Hancock’s Saturday town hall forum at the Oakland City Hall council chambers will include presentations by Arizona State Representative Leah Landrum Taylor and California Clean Money Campaign Executive Director Susan Lerner. 

Hancock staff member Taina Gomez, who is coordinating the town hall, said that time will be set aside for public testimony as well. 

“The town hall has a dual purpose,” she said, “both to get information from the public on their concerns about this issue, as well as to make the community aware and get them motivated. Hopefully people will contact their respective legislators, regardless of what happens with the committee vote on Tuesday.”›