It Is Time For Clean Elections
By Mark Linsky, Chair, Clean Elections San Diego
Twenty Five years ago the journalist and political commentator Hendrik Hertzberg wrote: “Money, the curdled mother’s milk of politics, is the most humiliating, corrupting part of a politician’s life”. Not much has changed since he wrote that, but there is a way the system can be dramatically improved in San Diego. The answer is Clean Elections, in which the power of private interests and private monies are countered by candidates who are publically funded.
To qualify for the money a participating candidate must, among other things, agree not to solicit or accept private funds, must gather hundreds of $5 donations to show he or she in fact has the backing of the community from which they come and is not some fly-by-night opportunist. And the candidate cannot use personal funds as a work-around.
The advantages of Clean Elections are many including the obvious big one: It removes the shadow of special interests from the campaign itself. But it also empowers neighborhoods by giving well known and well respected local candidates a way to fund a competitive campaign without drinking that ‘curdled mother’s milk’. In addition it frees up a candidate to spend time out in the community, listening to neighbors, asking the right questions and gathering ideas from neighborhood organizations rather than spending countless hours raising money. Finally, if elected, the payoff is programs and policies which are enacted free from the taint of undue influence.
The only objection those of us involved in the Clean Elections campaign have heard over the years is the ‘cost’ of such a program. In our 2020 initiative the cost was pegged at about $4 per resident of the City of San Diego per year. Now we believe we can run it for even less. But citizens need to ask themselves the following: What has the ‘cost’ been in sweetheart deals, questionable practices and benefits accrued to private interests over past decades?
Clean Elections is an alternative to the present electoral system which can and should be implemented no later than 2024. Money will continue to flow to candidates willing to maintain the status quo, but as a new generation of publicly funded candidates run for and win office, the result will be policies and programs which increasingly benefit the citizens, not private interests. We talk about San Diego as ‘America’s Finest City’, and in many ways we are, but the time has come to add a better and more inclusive way of electing our representatives so that the slogan becomes equally meaningful when it comes to holding public office.