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Public funding -- one way to give political campaigns back to people

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Some Americans aren't giving up on attempts to "sanitize" -- so far as possible -- funding of political campaigns. Reformers continue to plug away at one old problem and a new one: the potentially corruptive influence of large contributions and the disproportionate influence special-interest groups can wield on candidates through both direct and indirect financial support.

Measures aimed at making candidates more dependent on small contributions from individual citizen supporters are being put forward in Congress and in a number of state legislatures.

While no two proposals appear to be identical, most involve a similar approach -- at least partial public campaign funding through voluntary contributions by income taxpayers. The federal government has raised more than voluntary "checkoffs" or "add-ons" when submitting their income tax forms.

Seventeen states provide similar checkoffs to their income tax returns, using the money to finance gubernatorial candidacies and, in some instances, those for lesser state offices.

Common Cause is pressing anew for expansion of the federal program to cover congressional campaigns.

In at least six states -- California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania -- there are moves afoot to pass new or stronger public campaign financing legislation.

In Massachusetts, a proposal calls for replacing the largely ineffective 1975 statute under which those wishing to participate in the public funding program can do so only by paying the commonwealth an additional $1 when filing their income tax returns.

Instead, taxpayers would be allowed to designate $2 of their tax liability for the public campaign-financing kitty.

The measure, drafted by a special commission that uncovered widespread political influence peddling and illegal campaign contributions in Massachusetts , also seeks a broadening of public funding to include candidates for the Legislature as well as governor and other statewide offices.

To qualify for matching funds, a candidate would have to raise a certain amount on his or her own through small donations from private contributors. Those running for the Legislature, for example, could not accept a gift greater than $100 from anyone.

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