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The Challenges of Campaign Cash vs. Clean Elections

PHOTO: Campaign money played a bigger role in 2014 than in any midterm election history, but that isn't stopping civic and community groups from trying to keep elections clean. Photo credit: Greg Stotelmyer.
PHOTO: Campaign money played a bigger role in 2014 than in any midterm election history, but that isn't stopping civic and community groups from trying to keep elections clean. Photo credit: Greg Stotelmyer.
March 10, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. - The corrupting influence of money in politics is getting worse, according to recent reports from Clean Slate Now and the Center for Responsive Politics.

The reports show last year's midterm election was the most expensive in history. Outside spending on U.S. Senate elections has more than doubled since 2010, and campaign contributions from political action committees rose by 34 percent for U.S. House candidates in 2014.

Despite the numbers, Mark Mehringer of Clean Slate Now sees a bright side in the growing movement for clean elections. He says an increasing number of candidates are choosing not to take PAC money.

"It's essentially a way of taking a principled stand and making it clear to voters you care about not being bought, and you're going to do something," says Mehringer. "You're not going to come out with this line once again that everybody else does of, 'Well they can contribute to my campaign but they're not buying my vote.' Nobody believes that line."

Representatives from The League of Women Voters, which has more than 150,000 members nationwide, recently testified before the Federal Elections Commission to compel the agency to set new rules requiring full disclosure to help stem the tide of money flowing into elections in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling.

Mehringer says disclosure is a key component for clean elections, and that making it possible for average citizens to play a bigger role in campaign finance could be a game-changer. Clean Slate Now recently endorsed the Government by the People Act, which would provide federal matching funds for candidates who refuse PAC money.

"Instead of congressional candidates relying on special interest groups for their funding, the matching funds from the Government by the People Act will ensure that individual contributions matter as much or more than those special interest group contributions," he says.

Another nonpartisan group, Represent Us, is also working to introduce similar anti-corruption legislation in states, cities and towns across the nation.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY