Money in Politics

Clean Elections States


Eight states have “Clean Elections”-style public financing laws. Common Cause plays a critical role in many of them.


Maine. Voters in Maine passed the nation’s first Clean Elections law in 1996, and the system went into effect in the 2000 elections. Candidates and voters alike widely support the system; in the election of 2008, 85% of those who won state office ran using public funds rather than seeking private sources of money for their campaigns.


Common Cause Maine has been a key coalition partner since the early ‘90s and has helped to staff the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections (MCCE). VP for Programs Arn Pearson staffed the MCCE in his former capacity as executive director of the Maine Citizen Leadership Fund. Arn spent nine years working on the legal defense, implementation, legislative improvement and promotion of Maine’s Clean Elections law.


Connecticut. The first statewide public financing law enacted through the legislature rather than at the ballot box, Connecticut’s “Citizens Election” Program was passed in 2005 and had a tremendously successful first run in 2008. A large majority of candidates qualified and used the system, and over 80% of the winners had run with small donations and public funds under the Citizens Election ProgramConnecticut Common Cause worked statewide to educate candidates, voters, and the media about the program leading up to the election.


Connecticut enacted the program after a major corruption scandal that stretched all the way to the Governor’s mansion.  Common Cause co-chaired the reform coalition with CCAG and played a leadership role in winning public financing for all statewide and General Assembly elections in Connecticut.  Since the law’s passage in 2005, Common Cause has taken the lead on improving it in the legislature and developing strong rules for its implementation. We are also a defendant-intervenor and in-state legal team coordinator in the federal lawsuits challenging the law.  Former Connecticut CC chair Karen Hobert Flynn now leads the organization’s state efforts across the country as Vice President for State Operations.


New Mexico. Common Cause New Mexico led the successful efforts to win and implement public financing for New Mexico’s judicial elections and municipal elections in Albuquerque. In 2008, Common Cause played a leading role in winning municipal public financing in Santa Fe, the state capital.  Common Cause had a seat on Governor Richardson’s recent reform task force, and working with the Center for Civic Policy, Common Cause has launched a long-term coalition campaign for Clean Elections for all legislative and statewide elections.


North Carolina. The state first enacted full public financing for judicial races in 2002. After witnessing the high participation and strong support for the program in the 2004 and 2006 election cycles, North Carolina’s legislature expanded the Clean Elections program to include three statewide offices: candidates for State Auditor, State Insurance Commissioner and State Superintendent of Public Schools can now run for office without having to raise money from special interests. In addition, the city of Chapel Hill voted to publicly finance its municipal races and other cities are looking to follow suit. Common Cause North Carolina has played a prominent role in the capital and around the state in pushing for and winning these reforms.


Common Cause, represented by the Brennan Center, is also a defendant-intervenor in the federal court challenge to the law that provides public financing for Supreme Court and Appellate Judicial campaigns. Common Cause remains a leader in the North Carolina coalition to push for public financing of all state elections. 


Arizona. After voters enacted the Clean Elections program in 1998, Arizona joined Maine as the second state with full public financing for its legislature. Several cycles later, the program remains strong, as a majority (54%) of the 2009 legislature ran for office without taking any special interest money. For more on Arizona, visit the Clean Elections Institute.

New Jersey. The state legislature first enacted a pilot program of public financing for two legislative districts in 2005. Two years later, after a successful first run, the program expanded to a third district. Advocates in New Jersey are working to expand the program further and ultimately to enact statewide public financing.


Oregon. The city of Portland, OR, enacted the second municipal public financing program in the country in 2005; its “Voter-Owned Elections” program that began in 2006. For more on Portland, OR, visit Democracy Reform Oregon.


Hawaii. The county council of Hawaii’s Big Island passed public financing in the fall of 2008; the system goes into effect in 2009. The revitalized Common Cause Hawaii chapter worked on the victory.



Breaking through: new states and expanding programs

More than a dozen states have introduced public financing laws, and Common Cause is engaged in several that have the potential to win major reform in the next two years.


Wisconsin. After several years of gridlock in the state legislature over judicial public financing, Common Cause and allies in Wisconsin believe 2009 could be the year that the measure finally passes, especially with a high-spending judicial race taking place early in the year.  Common Cause Wisconsin has played a leading role in winning reform on judicial races for several years.


West Virginia. Big Coal tends to rule the political landscape – and the ecological landscape – in West Virginia. But the scandal involving Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship and the state’s Chief Justice has highlighted the need for reforming how justices are elected in West Virginia. Advocates are pushing for judicial reform as well as statewide public financing reform.


New York.  With municipal public financing in New York City and the pay-to-play scandal involving former state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, New York is primed for reform. Common Cause New York plays a leading role in the state reform coalition.


California.  California Common Cause is focused on both municipal public financing reforms in several California cities and on building support for a statewide initiative in 2010 to win public financing for Secretary of State races. While the outcome of the statewide public financing initiative Prop 89 in November 2006 was disappointing, it seems clear that the vote had a lot to do with the non-public financing elements of the proposition and should not be taken as a rejection of Clean Elections.  The exciting outcome of the campaign, however, was building an unprecedented coalition in support of the reform, including the California Black Chamber of Commerce, the California Teamsters, the Latino National Congress, and Sierra Club California.


Maryland.  Common Cause Maryland and Progressive Maryland have led a multiyear effort to win Clean Elections for the state, falling just one vote short in the state Senate in 2007. The problem of big money in Maryland politics remains, however, and Common Cause continues to work with the reform coalition on research, grassroots organizing, and media outreach efforts.


New Mexico. Common Cause New Mexico and its allies have an ambitious plan to win public financing reforms for all statewide elections after successfully passing reforms at both the state and municipal levels in recent years. The state’s capital, Santa Fe, and its largest city, Albuquerque, have public financing programs, along with statewide judicial and public regulatory commission candidates.


Colorado. There is new enthusiasm in Colorado for Clean Elections reforms in light of the success of pro-reform candidates and an ethics reform initiative in 2006. Colorado Common Cause is working to expand and strengthen the emerging reform coalition, draft a Clean Elections bill, and craft a coalition strategy to get it enacted.


Vermont.  In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s disappointing decision in the Randall case, Common Cause Vermont is working closely with Vermont PIRG, the National Voting Rights Institute/Demos and other allies to promote Clean Elections reform for legislative elections as the logical next step for Vermont. 


Georgia.  Common Cause Georgia has joined with the League of Women Voters, AARP, GeorgiaWatch and the Georgia Rural/Urban Summit to support a task force on public financing of judicial elections and to develop a long-term plan for statewide and legislative Clean Elections reforms.



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