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Voters Wanted Campaign Finance Reform

by Keri Hayes

Four states now have called for reform
Campaign finance reform won a major victory November 3rd, as voters in two states dealt a blow to wealthy campaign contributors with their approval of "clean elections" measures. Massachusetts and Arizona joined Maine and Vermont in the call for an end to special-interest money in politics. Activists hope the results will inspire national efforts to clean up elections.

"Arizona is leading the way for national reform," said Kaia Lenhart, political director of Arizonans for Clean Elections. "If sweeping reform can happen in a conservative state like Arizona, it can happen anywhere."

Arizona voters approved Proposition 200, "The Citizens Clean Elections Act," by a narrow 51 percent majority. The group responsible for the proposition, Arizonans for Clean Elections, turned in 195,000 signatures to have it placed on the ballot, 82,000 more than required. Prop 200 was also endorsed by more groups than any other referenda in Arizona history. Massachusetts voters approved Question 2, "The Clean Elections Law," by a resounding 2-1 margin. The measure was endorsed by the entire state congressional delegation.

Both initiatives create an option for politicians to receive public funds, "clean money," if they voluntarily agree to reject private financing, accept spending limits and shorten campaigns. The restrictions give more opportunity to third-party candidates, more information to voters, and less clout to special interests.

The Arizona and Massachusetts measures were patterned after a similar one enacted in Maine in 1996, the first comprehensive campaign finance reform measure. Vermont followed in 1997 with a statewide measure. Organized reform efforts are currently underway in numerous other states -- a measure is slated for 2000 in Missouri, New Mexico will introduce legislation in January 1999, and more than 40 other states are working toward campaign finance reform, including Washington, Oregon and Wisconsin.

While campaign finance is sometimes a confusing issue for voters who feel disconnected from a culture shared by wealthy interest groups and politicians, it's clear that an understanding is emerging. Investigations by various nonprofit groups dedicated to clean campaigns have revealed special interest's influence on everything from HMOs to air-travel safety, and movements for campaign reform are emerging across the nation.

Ellen Miller, the executive director of Public Campaign, a nonprofit group dedicated to campaign finance reform education and advocacy, saw the Arizona and Massachusetts election results as a major victory: "Politicians in Washington and the state houses should heed the message; people are not happy with the status quo, and when given a clear choice, they will support dramatic changes in the campaign finance system -- changes that will block special-interest influence, limit campaign spending, free candidates from the money chase and put voters in the driver's seat."

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Albion Monitor November 9, 1998 (

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