What Does “Clean Elections” Really Mean?

by on June 11, 2014 · 4 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Election, San Diego

By Judi Curry

Supporters at San Diego's Earth Fair. Taken from sdcleanelections.org

Supporters at San Diego’s Earth Fair. Taken from sdcleanelections.org

A local organization, Neighborhoods for Clean Elections, is leading a grass roots coalition with plans to put a clean elections initiative on the 2016 ballot.

The initiative — which is supported by Common Cause, as well as a host of other good government groups and a large number of town councils, local community councils and community associations — will provide public funding for candidates for mayor and City Council who agree to a Clean Elections Pledge.

That pledge requires that they refrain from soliciting any campaign contributions from private sources, and they further agree to refrain from spending any of their own money for their campaign. It is designed to break the conflict of interest between campaign contributors and candidates.

When the League of Women Voters endorsed the proposed initiative in a 2010 announcement, Michael McQuary, then chair of Neighborhoods for Clean Elections, said, “San Diego city government is broken. Developers, lobbyists and special interests get almost everything they want because they grease the palms of the politicians with campaign cash. As a result, neighborhoods and ordinary citizens are often left out of the political process. Clean elections will help clean up San Diego City Hall.”

In the same announcement, League of Women Voters co-chair Ann Hoiberg said, “Clean elections would make a fundamental difference in San Diego politics. We need to get money out of San Diego politics and return political power to people and our neighborhoods.”

When I lived in Maine, Clean Elections was the focal point of the elections there. How refreshing it was to meet with people from the neighborhood; discuss our problems, and find that the politicians were listening and offering advice on how to fix those problems. Arizona also has Clean Elections for state candidates as well as the city of Albuquerque.

Under the Clean Elections model, candidates who pledge to “run clean” need to qualify for funding. The idea is to eliminate “crank” or marginal candidates in favor of those who can demonstrate community support. A candidate would be required to collect $5 from 500 voters in his/her district to qualify for funding. Those proceeds would go into the city’s Clean Election fund. Then the candidates would be funded based upon a formula linked to the population. Those amounts would be, on average, less than half of what successful council candidates have spent in recent elections.

This would be a “voluntary system” – candidates that do not wish to opt in may still choose to run under all of the existing rules, still collecting funds from private contributors and spending their own funds. But members that would be part of the “Clean Elections” would be able to spend their time knocking on doors and meeting the constituents of their district. The catering to the donors would be over. The candidates would be people that genuinely want to serve the voters, instead of their contributors.

How nice it would be to let the neighborhoods have a say at City Hall rather than the developers, big money contributors and lobbyists. Look for the initiative on the 2016 ballot.

Questions: Contact Neighborhoods for Clean Elections, Box 16066, San Diego, 92167.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Page June 11, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Thank you Judi for this article. Everyone should pay attention to this effort.

I went to a meeting this group held here in Pt. Loma some months ago. I was humbled by the people in the room. John Hartley is spearheading the effort. He is a former city council member and has been given the lion’s share of the credit for the effort to change how council members are elected now. The elections used be held city wide and that was changed for the better to district only voting. Also in the room were Mignon Scherer and Alex Leondis, two of the main folks responsible for the 30-foot height limit ordinance. Also attending was Floyd Morrow, another long time city council member who was active in representing the people and not the moneyed interests.

They are all working on the Clean Elections campaign. I’m 63 and I was one of the youngest people in the room. I was amazed that the fire still burns in these folks the way it does but they need help. I urge everyone to visit their website at http://www.sdcleanelections.org and see if you can help, if nothing more, give a little money.


judi curry June 11, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Thanks, Geoff. I think it is a worthwhile campaign issue also.


Rick Dover Knoxville June 11, 2014 at 11:01 pm

The catering to the donors would be over.


Geoff Page June 12, 2014 at 10:01 am

That is exactly the idea, Rick.


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