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Are `clean money' elections a washout?

July 16, 2006

Re "As clean as we want to be," editorial, July 11

It's encouraging to see The Times take a skeptical attitude toward proposals to publicly finance elections. As with so much legislation, its intent is to achieve a desirable goal -- reducing the influence of special interests -- but in practice it only exacerbates the problems it is meant to solve. Publicly financing campaigns only changes the tactics of special interest groups, often for the worse, and leaves taxpayers with a hefty bill. Californians could learn much from Oregon's experience with publicly financed campaigns, in which taxpayers footed a $479,106 bill for a city council primary in Portland.

It's bad enough that voters have to be subjected to a constant stream of attack ads throughout the course of a campaign. Let's not make voters pay for them as well.

STUART DITSLER

Alexandria, Va.

*

The editorial states: "Political money is a lot like toothpaste in a tube: You can screw on the cap tightly, but if you keep squeezing, the toothpaste will burst out the bottom." The toothpaste tube has already burst. Big money puts record-breaking piles of money into elections while voters are squeezed out.

Proposition 89 counters big-money spending with full matching funds for "clean money" candidates hit by independent expenditures. Independent groups are free to spend, but they will think twice about playing politics knowing that their money advantage is nullified. Under Proposition 89, candidates who violate election laws face strong penalties, including possibly getting ejected from office. No more slaps on the wrists but real punishment.

Proposition 89 makes a profound statement for California. It hands elections back to the voters and candidates, away from the status quo vice grip of big money.

JAMES BENNETT SAXON

Marina del Rey

*

The editorial misses the point of "clean" or publicly financed elections, which allow candidates to run for office without being beholden to lobbyists and wealthy campaign donors. This is a practical, proven reform that levels the playing field so that qualified people, many of whom otherwise would not have run, can launch a competitive campaign.

Statutes can provide for extra funding, up to a limit, when independent expenditures are made, ensuring that publicly financed candidates will not be grossly outspent.

Clean elections ensure that elections are about voters, not big campaign donors. The cost of these programs is minimal, and the potential cost saving is great. When lawmakers are freed from the money chase, they can debate legislation on the merits rather than worrying about giving out policy favors for donors.

NICK NYHART

Executive Director

Public Campaign

Washington

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