Background and History
American elections are heavily influenced by contributions to candidates from wealthy special interests and their lobbyists, and from well-heeled individuals in general. Full public financing of political campaigns would bar special interest money and private contributions from political campaigns. The result: ownership of elections would be transferred from special interests to the voters. Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine have enacted fair elections laws. Other states are considering them.
The Fair Elections System
Under a Fair Elections system, candidates would agree to stop fundraising once they qualified for fair elections and would receive public funds to run the remainder of their campaigns. This system would be an extension of the current public matching funds program already available in Rhode Island. The playing field would be even, at least financially. Candidates could not use private wealth or donations from the well-heeled to swell their campaign war chests. Candidates would not have to spend time “dialing for dollars” and spend the time talking about important issues with voters.
An Assault on Electronic Campaign Finance Reporting
The public can know which special interests elected officials are indebted to only if campaign finance records are completely accessible. Between 2001 and 2006, Common Cause worked to gain passage of legislation mandating that all but the most modest campaigns would file their finance reports electronically and that these reports be published on the website of the State Board of Elections.
This invaluable disclosure tool suffered a setback in 2007, when legislation was filed to eliminate mandatory electronic campaign filing. Common Cause RI worked with legislators to prevent elimination of the requirement by providing additional time for candidates and elected officials to learn the system. In addition, the thresholds were lifted to match national levels for mandatory electronic campaign filing. The governor’s veto was easily overridden on October 30, 2007, by a veto-proof Democratic majorities in both chambers.