June 1999 Volume 6, Number 5
by Dan Sullivan
Public campaign financing will eliminate the influence of donors who want
to weaken environmental laws, and it will shift power back to voters and volunteers.
Sierra Club chapters and reform advocates in several states are promoting a new way to
finance political campaigns: "Clean Money." The core concepts of the Clean Money
proposals are public financing for political campaigns and voluntary limits on campaign
"Congress submits to the pressure of timber, oil, chemical, agribusiness and other
big-money interests by trying to weaken environmental safeguards," said Sierra Club
President Chuck McGrady. "The main reason many politicians side with the polluters is
their never-ending need for campaign cash. Public campaign financing will eliminate the
influence of donors who want to weaken environmental laws, and it will shift power back to
voters and volunteers."
Last February, the Sierra Club Board of Directors adopted a policy supporting public
financing and spending limits in congressional campaigns. The Club works on the issue with
the Washington, D.C., lobbying group Public Campaign, which named the Clean Money
In 1996, Maine became the first state to enact full public financing for candidates who
demonstrate grassroots support and agree to spending limits. The new system will finance
the Maine state legislative elections next year, and the Club's Maine Chapter is working
with Maine Citizens for Clean Elections to ensure the system will be a success.
Clean Money advocates scored major victories last year in Arizona and Massachusetts
when voters approved Clean Elections initiatives. The Massachusetts initiative depends on
legislative action to provide funding, so the Clean Elections coalition is now focusing
intense grassroots pressure on lawmakers to include at least $10 million in the next state
budget to fund the 2002 state elections, when the new system takes effect.
The Florida Chapter made Clean Money campaign reform a legislative priority for 1999.
"We will never stop urban sprawl, continued weakening of growth-management laws,
toxic pollution and selling of our natural resources unless we elect lawmakers who have
not been bought," said Helen Spivey, Florida Chapter issue chair.
Club activists are also working on the issue in Missouri, Oregon, Idaho, Montana,
Michigan and North Carolina. "If we can demonstrate successful comprehensive reform
in several states, that puts us in a much better position to get reform in federal
campaigns as well," said Club Political Director Daniel J. Weiss.
At the federal level, the Sierra Club advocates eliminating "soft money"
donations to political parties as a key step toward comprehensive campaign-finance reform.
Soft money can be used for party-building activities - but not for candidates' campaigns.
Campaign contributions are strictly limited by federal law, but these limits don't apply
to soft money. Campaign managers quickly learned to use these less restricted funds for
activities that built support for individual candidates as well as their political parties
- thereby effectively evading spending and contribution limits.
Soft-money fund-raising mushroomed in the 1990s, particularly in presidential election
years. "If we do not want the presidential election process to become as dominated by
the business sector as the congressional process has already become, we need to close the
soft-money loophole," said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope.
The Sierra Club supports four congressional proposals for campaign-finance reform. H.R.
417, sponsored by Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Martin Meehan (D-Mass.), and S. 26,
sponsored by John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.) are very similar; they
abolish soft money, encourage voluntary limits on personal spending by candidates and
strengthen enforcement of federal election laws.
The Club also supports a more comprehensive reform similar to the Clean Money program -
H.R. 1739, introduced by John Tierney (D-Mass.), and S. 982 introduced by Paul Wellstone
(D-Minn.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.). These bills propose that candidates who voluntarily
elect to abide by the Clean Money rules (like adopting strict spending and contribution
caps) would receive public campaign financing along with big discounts on postage rates
and television advertisements.
Dan Sullivan is chair of the Sierra Club Political Committee's Campaign
Finance Reform Task Force.
Go on to the next article, "Build Support for 'Resources
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