From Irene Miller:
A resolution urging
Most of the drama took place in a caucus on whether the resolution should be forwarded for a delegate vote. The task for the caucus was to grapple with a system of campaign finance reform that many had never heard of before. But the play started even before the convention, when the scheduled resolution presenter, Rose Ann Palmer of the Garden City Branch, was unable to attend and Irene Miller of the Kingston Branch had to fill in for her at the last minute.
After Miller explained what Clean Elections is, the immediate response from some was that the effort for Clean Elections "would divert effort from the association's public policy goals." Others said enacting Clean Elections is "fundamental to gaining our goals because it would permit qualified women without access to deep pockets to run strong races for state office." In the end, the caucus decided that Clean Elections should be brought up for a delegate vote because it would go a long way toward achieving our goals of equity, education, health care, etc if those elected felt free work for us instead of contributors to their next campaign.
But before putting the resolution forward, the caucus called for two amendments, which were made by
The following day, convention delegates from branches all across the state overwhelmingly passed the resolution.
So what is Clean Elections and how does it work?
Clean Elections is full and equal public funding of all qualified candidates who refuse private contributions and abide by spending limits. In keeping with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Buckley vs Valeo, which basically says money is equal to speech, Clean Elections is a voluntary system. Those who choose not to participate are free to opt out. If they opt out, they cannot have any public funds. As has been shown in states with Clean Elections, "Clean" candidates have a distinct advantage over privately funded candidates because they can say, "I am beholden only to voters."
Clean Election candidates qualify for public funding by demonstrating community support before the primary. They do this by collecting a certain number of $5 contributions from individuals in their own district. Once qualified, they do not have to raise another cent. They can spend all their campaign time communicating with voters. Clean Elections would cost New Yorkers about $3 each per election cycle. In return, the billions that now go to tax breaks and subsidies for big corporate contributors could be available for healthcare, education, the environment, fire and police departments, and infrastructure such as roads and bridges.
It is important to note that full public funding of campaigns with Clean Elections is very different from partial public funding of campaigns, which matches tax dollars to private contributions. Corporations, which are the biggest contributors, like partial public funding because our tax dollars permit them to give less and still retain their political influence. Polls show that people who know the difference between full and public funding overwhelmingly reject partial funding because it wastes tax dollars.
Clean Elections bills have been introduced in both the NY Senate and Assembly, but few New Yorkers know this because most media owners do not want Clean Elections. That means passing Clean Elections must be a statewide grass-roots effort. Although there is a great deal more to be done, I'm glad to say we are succeeding. As "we the people" get our message out across the state, more and more New Yorkers are demanding Clean Elections because they already know that big campaign contributors trump the people's will. Learning that Clean Elections would make it easy for politicians to put people first flames a strong will to pass it.
What can you do?
The task for any AAUW member who thinks Clean Elections is worth fighting for is to help formulate and carry out strategies to inform and engage the public so that our legislators know we consider its passage fundamental to restoring democracy and reaching our organization's goals.
But we do not need to reinvent the wheel. Other organizations that have been working on this for years could be a tremendous resource. There is a lot to do and it is often a lot of fun. A big part of the job is making sure New Yorkers all over the state know about Clean Elections and how it would restore the democratic process. Things to do include hosting house parties with a Clean Elections speaker, having your branch and other organizations you belong to host a Clean Elections presentation, passing resolutions, helping with phone trees, tabling at flea markets or fairs, gathering petitions, and writing letters to newspapers, the Governor, and your state Senator and Assembly member. Whatever your talent and expertise, it is welcome and needed.
Governor Paterson introduced the Clean Elections bill in the senate before becoming Governor and is a strong supporter as are quite a few others legislators. But, as you can imagine, not all legislators are eager to change the current system. Our message to them is two fold: 1) New Yorkers want this. 2) It has been very successful with legislators and citizens in other states. In
There also are bills in the U.S. Congress. The House bill is called Clean Elections and the Senate bill is called Fair Elections.
You can read the AAUW-NYS resolution here.Irene Miller is a member of the Kingston Branch of the AAUW, founder of New York Citizens for Clean Elections, and board member of Citizen Action of NY, a leading statewide grassroots organization devoted to passing Clean Elections in New York and on the national level. She lives in Palenville, NY, and can be reached at 518 678-3516 or firstname.lastname@example.org.