How to Clean Up Elections

Pundits and other political cynics scoff at citizens' efforts to reform America's money-corrupted political process, saying it's as futile as trying to teach table manners to a hog -- the effort wears you out and it only annoys the hog.

That's cute, but if the cynics would only lift their eyes from their myopic focus on Washington, they would see something big taking place in such diverse states as Maine and Arizona. Citizens in both places have already passed grassroots initiatives providing for dramatic reform -- public financing of elections.

These clean election initiatives give candidates of any party the chance to finance both their primary and general-election campaigns with public funds, provided they forego taking special interest money. Not only does this help get corrupt money out of the process, but it also means a regular person can run for office again, since a school teacher, taxi driver, farmer, shopkeeper, steelworker, or anyone else has access to a pool of money to make them financially competitive with the incumbents.

Maine and Arizona have run two election cycles under clean money laws, and the results would warm the cockles of the coldest cynic's heart:

  • There have been more challengers to incumbents than before, with more women, Latinos, and Native Americans running and winning -- half of the challengers using the clean money option say they would not have run without it.

  • Because this system creates more choices, offering fresh faces and new ideas, voter turnout is ratcheting upward.

  • And -- here's the big one -- public financing is working -- 59 percent of Maine's legislators and 36 percent of those in Arizona have now been elected without taking any tainted money, and publicly funded candidates in Arizona last year won seven of nine statewide offices, including the governor and attorney general.

If you want clean elections, call Public Campaign: 202-293-0222.

Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of 'Thieves In High Places: They've Stolen Our Country And It's Time To Take It Back,' on sale now from Viking Press.

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