Texas -- No sooner do we win a long struggle to
clean up politics and restore democracy in this
country than we find the whole thing under attack,
and we have to go out and re-fight the same battle
all over again. Good thing we're not easily discouraged.
This is what's happening in Arizona, where the
successful Clean Elections law is now under attack
by the big special interests and national conservatives
with ties that run from Tom DeLay (surprise!)
to Bush's fund-raising machine.
Micah Sifry of Public Campaign reports, "They've
raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to put
a constitutional amendment on the November ballot
that doesn't mention anywhere its true intent,
to de-fund the Clean Elections system." This charming
endeavor is masquerading under the misnomer "No
Taxpayer Money for Politicians," a misleading
moniker right up there with Bush's "Clear Skies
and Healthy Forests" initiatives. What a shame
they couldn't figure out a way to call it the
The bad news for the bad guys is that evidence
continues to accumulate that Clean Elections work
-- they are actually reviving democracy. In Arizona
and Maine, where Clean Elections have been in
effect for a couple of years, more candidates
are running and competitiveness has increased.
According to a study done by political scientists
at the University of Wisconsin in May of this
year: "There is no question that public funding
programs have increased the pool of candidates
willing and able to run for state legislative
office. This effect is most pronounced for challengers,
who are far more likely than incumbents to accept
public funding. In Arizona, the likelihood that
an incumbent will have a competitive race more
than doubled from 22 percent of all races in 1998
to 45 percent in 2002."
The report also notes, "Fears that clean money
would be tantamount to an incumbent protection
act are unfounded, as are, as near as we can tell,
objections that money would be used by fringe
candidates who would do nothing but feed at the
That was always one of the concerns about Clean
Money -- that every nincompoop in town would wind
up running on the public's nickel. Arizona cleverly
finessed this possibility by insisting that before
you qualify for Clean Money, you have to raise
a substantial sum in amounts of no more than $5
per person from people who actually live in your
district. If a sufficient number of your neighbors
think highly enough of you to kick in five bucks,
then and only then can you tap into the pool of
I always thought it was a shame one part of the
original Arizona Clean Elections law got declared
unconstitutional -- they were going to fund part
of the pool of clean money by putting a special
tax on lobbyists, an idea I found just dreamy.
Alas, the First Amendment does not permit it.
The Wisconsin report also notes: "Arizona experienced
a significant jump in the number of contested
races in 2002, increasing from about 40 percent
in 2000 to over 60 percent in 2002. Not only was
this increase large, it also reversed the previous
trend of uniformly fewer contested elections between
1994 and 2000."
According to Public Campaign, the early results
for the 2004 election cycle are also impressive.
In Maine, which held primaries on June 8, 71 percent
of the candidates ran "clean" -- up from 50 percent
in 2002 and 31 percent in 2000. Both Republicans
and Democrats are enthusiastic about the system,
which enables lots of people who would never have
been able to afford to run to take a shot at elective
We live in a country where 98-plus percent of
the members of Congress get re-elected every year
with no serious competition. That, my friends,
is a dead democracy. Ninety-eight percent of us
are not happy with Congress, we just can't beat
the big money from special interests without public
So who could be opposed to this splendid success
in re-sparking a dying democracy? Funny, every
one of the donors seems to list "employer" under
"occupation." That would include insurance companies,
realtors, developers, right-wing front groups,
well-known right-wing donors including Bush "Pioneers"
($100,000 plus) and conservative activists affiliated
with the "Club for Growth" and "Institute for
One of the oldest sayings in politics is, "You
got to dance with them what brung you." What Clean
Elections does is fix the system so that when
people get elected, they got no one to dance with
-- no one they owe -- except us, the people.
Of course, if you think millions of dollars in
campaign contributions don't buy votes, only "access,"
then you have no stake in this fight. I'm sure
you have just as much say in the system, and it
is representing your interests just as well as
it does General Dynamics and Halliburton.
For how to raise hell abut it, see www.pcactionfund.org/five.
To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features
by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists,
visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
Posted: June 28, 2004