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Campaign Finance Debated

October 12, 2000
By: Paul Monies
State Capital Bureau
Links: An info-box on the Missouri proposal.

JEFFERSON CITY -- Missourians will be asked Nov. 7 to support a campaign finance measure that is part of a national effort for goverment financing of political campaigns.

If approved, Proposition B would set up a voluntary system of tax-supported campaign finance for state offices. It will be funded by an increase in the corporate franchise tax.

Similar plans have passed in Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont. Oregon voters will decide on their state's version this year.

Maine, which approved tax-supported campaign finance in 1996, will hold its first elections this year under the new system. Several court challenges caused the delay.

About one-third of the candidates in Maine are running under the new system, said Bill Hain, director of the state ethics commission.

Similiar to the Missouri proposal, the Maine "Clean Election" law requires candidates get a minimum number of $5 contributions to qualify for government funds. The money goes to the state campaign finance fund, not the candidate. The number of qualifying contributions depends on the race.

"The $5 contribution was a hassle," said Maine state Sen. Susan Longley, a Democratic incumbent who is running as a Clean Election candidate. "People were giving more than they needed to and I was returning a lot of checks."

As a three-term senator, Longley described herself as a veteran fund-raiser. This year, she has had to refocus her campaign.

"I'm realizing the benefits as a candidate," she said. "I didn't realize how the money chase caused me to have a roving eye away from my constituents."

At the other end of the state, first-time candidate Jolene Lovejoy is running for state representative. The Republican said collecting the $5 contributions was intimidating at first.

"I really had to be an educator on the process," Lovejoy said. "Most people didn't remember what they had voted for four years ago."

Lovejoy brushed aside critics who said that the process would attract extreme candidates.

"There weren't any crackpot candidates," Lovejoy said. "I don't think a person could come out of the woodwork and just run. People have to know you."

Hain, the Maine Ethics Commission director, said money for Maine's Clean Election Fund comes mostly from an annual $2 million state appropriation and a state income tax checkoff. Qualifying contributions, fines and late fees make up the rest.

Missouri Plan

In Missouri, the proposal to fund public campaigns has drawn the ire of business groups such as the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Missouri. All the funds for Proposition B would come from an increase in the corporate franchise tax, which is expected to bring in $13 million each year.

The tax increase would affect six percent of the largest employers in the state, said Ellen Bogard, spokeswoman for Missouri Voters for Fair Elections.

"The corporations just got a 33 percent reduction in their taxes," Bogard said, referring to the cut in franchise taxes approved in 1999. "Under this plan they would get a 22 percent reduction."

Members of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce disagree.

"This is not campaign finance reform," said Kelly Gillespie, vice president of governmental affairs for the chamber. "Campaign finance reform is full disclosure and contribution limits, which we already have."

Gillespie said Proposition B would also give extreme groups a voice in political campaigns.

"These extremists have a right to free speech but the taxpayers don't have to amplify it," Gillespie said.

Oregon Plan

In contrast, Oregon's Measure Six on the November ballot would be funded by reducing an income tax credit that taxpayers get for contributions they make to political campaigns.

That would bring in only part of the money required. Kevin Looper, spokesman for the Yes on Six campaign, the rest of the funding would be up to the Oregon legislature.

Like Missouri, Oregon's Measure Six has drawn opposition, although from lobbyists, not business groups.

"The opposition is from the right opponents," Looper said. "They would be the most hurt by the passage of this. But I feel very good about our mainstream business groups supporting something like this."

Looper was upbeat about Measure Six's chances, adding that if the election was held today, it would win by a 2-1 margin.

Oregon's opposition to the measure, called No Taxpayer Handouts for Politicians, is headed by lobbyist and lawyer John DiLorenzo.

DiLorenzo said the amount of money available in Oregon, capped at $24 million, will become irresistible to many candidates.

"The moment Oregonians fund a neo-Nazi candidate, they will want this measure gone," DiLorenzo said, adding that if the measure passes, his group will challenge it in court.

Desert Dollars

Arizona voters passed a tax-supported campaign finance measure in 1998. Last summer, a federal appeals court upheld the constitutionality of the measure, but it faces another lawsuit over funding sources, said Matt Shaffer, deputy director of the Citizens for Clean Elections Commission. The commission is the public agency charged with administering the program.

Arizona's plan is funded by a 10 percent surcharge on civil and criminal fines, an income-tax checkoff and an annual registration fee on lobbyists. The lawsuit, which won't be decided until after the election, challenges the surcharge and lobbyist fee.

Despite the lawsuit, about one-third of the state legislature candidates qualified for government funding. Several candidates for Arizona's Corporation Commission, which oversees utilities, also qualified. The pool of public money has hit $5.7 million.

"The more we get into the actual funding of campaigns, the more problems come up," Shaffer said. "There's lots of holes in the law, unfortunately."

Bill Mundell, a Republican candidate for the Corporation Commission, is running for the remainder of a six-year term as a Clean Elections candidate.

He said that it was better having 1,500 $5 contributors than a small group of people making larger contributions, who may have ties to matters coming before the commission.