Whether it’s called Clean Elections, Voter-Owned Elections, or Fair Elections—similar systems have been working for years in cities and states across the country. They’ve opened the door for candidates without access to cash to run for office, given voters a bigger voice, and allowed politicians to work in the best interests of their constituents, not campaign donors.
In Connecticut: Eighty-four percent of officials elected in 2014 ran under the state’s Citizens’ Election public financing program, including all six statewide winners. Under the system, candidates who collect a large number of small contributions receive a grant to fund their campaigns. It was passed by the legislature and signed by former Gov. Jodi Rell (R) in 2004 after a spate of corruption scandals. Since the program first became available in 2008, the state has passed numerous policies to benefit everyday people, including mandatory paid sick days, increased minimum wage, and an Earned Income Tax Credit.
And, importantly, it has changed the way lawmakers do their job and allowed them to spend more time with their constituents. “Before public financing, during the session…there were ‘ shakedowns’ where lobbyists and corporate sponsors had events and you as a legislator had to go,” one lawmaker said. “That’s no longer a part of the reality.” Another lawmaker said, “I announced my reelection bid in February and by April, I was done fundraising. So, from April to November, I could focus only on talking to constituents. Without public financing, I would have been fundraising through that entire period.”
In Maine: A majority of winning legislative candidates participated in the state’s Clean Elections program in 2014, even after a Supreme Court decision to weaken the system and blocked legislative attempts to modernize it. Maine Clean Elections has allowed a broad, more diverse group of candidates to run for office. State Rep. Diane Russell, who worked at a convenience store when deciding to run, has said, “thanks to public financing, a gal who takes cash for the convenience store for selling sandwiches can actually talk about the stories that she’s learned from behind the counter.”
This November, Maine voters will have the opportunity to improve the system through the ballot initiative process.
To learn more about the role of small donors in the 2014 election, check out our report.
In New York City: It’s not a stretch to say Mayor Bill De Blasio’s primary election victory was due to the city’s popular matching funds program. The program has also broadened the types of people participating in the program. Our analysis of 2009 elections in the city found that donors giving $10 or less—donations that become as much as $70 after they’re matched—live in neighborhoods that are more racially diverse than the city as a whole. And, according to Brennan Center analysis, “small donors to 2009 City Council candidates came from a much broader array of city neighborhoods than did the city’s small donors to 2010 State Assembly candidates.”