Alison Smith works to reform campaign finance by using public funds(Read article summary)
She helped pass a campaign finance reform law in Maine where candidates qualify for public funds and are beholden only to voters.
Courtesy of YES! Magazine
‚ÄúGradually¬†it dawned on me that he‚Äôd broken the¬†wetland regulations. I went to a town meeting and waited¬†for someone to say something. Nobody did. So I voiced my¬†opinions¬†as best I could, red-faced, hesitant, and embarrassed.¬†I found all these other people were thinking the same thing.‚ÄĚ
Shortly afterward, Smith joined the League of Women¬†Voters, and began working on wetland and recycling issues,¬†first in Connecticut and then in Maine. She became a more¬†confident activist with experience, and by the time the league asked her to help get a campaign finance reform¬†measure on the ballot, she jumped at the chance.¬†
‚ÄúWe‚Äôve become so used to being disgusted with elections¬†and politicians,‚ÄĚ says Smith. ‚ÄúWe assume that almost anyone¬†who gets in will be corrupt. I didn‚Äôt know whether the initiative¬†would pass, but I didn‚Äôt want cynicism to rule my life.‚ÄĚ¬†
The initiative offered a Clean Election Option, where¬†candidates¬†who pledged not to take private funding and who¬†raised enough $5 contributions could receive public¬†money to mount a competitive campaign.
Smith met with newspaper¬†editorial boards and spoke wherever anyone would have¬†her. ‚ÄúI found that as an ordinary person¬†I had more credibility¬†than the political professionals. When people¬†asked¬†why I was involved, I‚Äôd repeat over and over how if we could¬†just break the links between money and politics, we‚Äôd begin¬†to have a solution.‚ÄĚ¬†
The initiative passed with 56 percent of the vote and¬†changed Maine‚Äôs politics. By 2010, 80 percent of the state‚Äôs¬†candidates were participating, and Vermont, Arizona, and¬†Connecticut had launched similar programs.
Smith now¬†works with a new generation of activists in Maine to defend,¬†preserve, and strengthen Clean Elections.¬†
‚ÄúOne of the great things,‚ÄĚ she says, ‚Äúis that these reforms¬†require citizen participation. For 10 years, Maine people have¬†made the system work, supporting Clean Election candidates¬†with qualifying contributions of $5. Without the pressures¬†of fundraising, candidates put a premium on voter contact.¬†
"Once elected, lawmakers know that their only debt is to the¬†voters. Although our law has come under attack, Maine people¬†always rise to defend their Clean Election system.
‚ÄĘ Paul Loeb¬†wrote this article for¬†The YES! Breakthrough 15, the Winter 2012 issue of YES! Magazine. Paul is the author of Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in Challenging Times.¬†
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