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Clean Elections

“To be successful, representative government assumes that elections will be controlled by the citizenry at large, not by those who give the most money. Electors must believe their vote counts. Elected officials must owe their allegiance to the people, not to their own wealth or to the wealth of interest groups who speak only for the selfish fringes of the whole community.” -Barry Goldwater

Barry Goldwater probably rolls over in his grave after the cost of each election is reported in America. The costs have skyrocketed and the band of donors where the majority of these funds comes from has narrowed. The interconnected nature of special interests, lobbyists, former elected officials and campaign finance has grown dramatically in recent decades.

My first campaign for the state legislature in 1972 only cost ten thousand. In those days a grass roots campaign with meagre funds was still capable of overcoming the machine and big money interests. That has become much rarer. The rule of the incumbent winning over and over is very much related to the volume and source of funds it takes to win an election.

Alaska has an opportunity to pass a so-called Clean Election initiative for public finance of campaigns following the lead of other states. Seven states and two cities have Clean Elections, or full public financing, for some political offices. Three states—Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine—provide full public financing for all statewide and legislative races. These laws have been approved through a combination of the ballot process and by legislatures.

Clean Elections/Full Public Financing States
State/Locality Office Where Public Funding Available How approved Year Approved
Arizona statewide and legislative initiative 1998
Connecticut statewide and legislative legislation 2005
Maine statewide and legislative initiative 1996
New Jersey legislative pilot project legislation 2004
New Mexico Public Regulation Commission
judicial elections




North Carolina judicial elections legislation 2002
Vermont governor & lieutenant governor legislation 1997
Albuquerque, New Mexico City-wide initiative 2005
Portland, Oregon City-wide legislation 2005

A ballot initiative is underway in Alaska for a “Clean Elections” reform that would provide voluntary public finance of state elections. The Alaska Website explains more.

The following excerpt from Public Campaign explains how the clean election laws typically work.

Clean Elections gives candidates the option to qualify for public funding to run their campaigns. While the specifics vary, typically a candidate must collect a set number of small qualifying contributions—usually $5—from people in their district. The number of signatures and contributions required varies according to the office sought.

If a candidate runs under the Clean Elections system and faces an opponent who is running with private contributions and outspends the publicly funded candidate, the law typically provides a matching grant, to a limit, to the publicly funded candidate. Extra funding is also often available if there is independent spending against a candidate by an outside group or individual.

Candidates who choose not to be participate in the Clean Elections system can raise money from private donors, but must follow state campaign finance limits and disclosure laws. Clean Elections laws must be voluntary to comply with the Supreme Court’s 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling, which specifically approved of voluntary public financing systems.

While America is busy promoting democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia and other countries we need to set a better example of how democracy should work.