Money in Politics

Clean Elections: A Proven Record in the U.S.


For more infoIndividual success stories


Full public financing of campaigns isn’t just a lofty idea – it has been successfully implemented and has a proven record of success in states and cities all over the country. Three states have instituted Clean Elections for all their statewide offices – Arizona, Maine, and most recently Connecticut. A total of seven states have implemented Clean Elections for some of their statewide offices. In all the places that have implemented it, it enjoys high approval ratings among voters. And most importantly, it has freed up elected officials to act based on all of their constituents' needs, rather than feeling pressure to bow to the desires of wealthy campaign contributors.


Clean Elections is also popular among candidates: 84% of Maine legislators were elected using Clean Elections in 2006 without taking a dime from corporations, unions or PACs.  In Arizona, nine out of the eleven statewide officeholders won using public funding, including the Governor.  In North Carolina, 5 of 6 appellate judges were elected under their Clean Elections system.  Fully 98% of Maine’s participating candidates were satisfied with Clean Elections in 2006, and 87% of first-time candidates said public financing was an important factor in their decision to run.

"Being a Clean Elections elected official now, there's a lot of freedom that comes with that. I really can focus on what my constituents need and not worry about upsetting anybody and it's going to cost me in the next election. I can really focus on what I think good policy is."
- State Rep. Nancy Smith, (D-ME), Clean Elections: Changing the Face of America video, 2004


Opens Up the System to Policy Reforms


In Maine, the proposed Dirigo Health Plan - the nation's first universal health care program - faced strong opposition from the hospitals, insurance companies and physicians. But in a legislature with many members elected under the Clean Elections system, special interests pressure was less potent, opening the way for this groundbreaking reform.

"When I'm walking the halls of the legislature and I see lobbyists from major corporations or even small organizations, I know that I get to make decisions that think about all the people in my constituencies, all the people in my district and not just specific interest groups.

- Senate President Beth Edmonds (D-ME), The Road to Clean Elections Video

When Ariz. Gov. Janet Napolitano was running for governor, she promised voters to lower prescription drug prices. On the day she was sworn into office, she issued an executive order establishing prescription drug subsidies for seniors. Napolitano, who ran under Arizona’s Clean Election Program, said in speech later that year: “If I had not run clean, I would surely have been paid visits by numerous campaign contributors representing pharmaceutical interests and the like, urging me either to shelve that idea or to create it in their image. All the while, they would be wielding the implied threat to yank their support and shop for an opponent in four years.”



Opens Up the System to New Candidates


In Maine, 87% of first-time candidates said public financing was an important factor in their decision to run. Successful candidates included Rep. Nancy Smith, who said, “I am a farmer and a forester. I ran for office because I want to make a difference. I see public service as a responsibility.”


In North Carolina, which established public financing for top judicial races, in 2006 four of the publicly financed winners were women and one was an African American. In Arizona, eight members of the legislature who are racial and ethnic minorities ran using the system.

Public funding “has allowed minorities to run for the state legislature as well as statewide offices where in the past, minorities had not run for these offices.”

– State Rep. Steve Gallardo (D-AZ)


Increases Voter Participation


A clean elections system opens up democracy by encouraging people from a broader range of economic backgrounds to participate through campaign contributions. Seed money contributions of $100 and qualifying contributions of $5 make it possible for many more Americans to contribute. In 2002, 90,000 Arizona voters made $5 qualifying contributions, triple the number of private campaign contributions in previous years. In Maine, 30,000 voters made such contributions, five times the number of private campaign contributions in the previous cycle.


While voter turnout is affected by other factors, Clean Elections, by increasing competition and bringing new, fresh faces into the system, encourages people to come out and vote. In 2002, Arizona’s voter turnout increased 22% over 1998, both gubernatorial election years. In 2004, voter turnout was a full 67% higher than in 1998. Maine’s turnout hit a record high of 74% in 2004, a year that 77% of candidates ran as clean election candidates.



Read more:  Individual success stories

                     What elected officials are saying about public financing