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Opinion: Clean Election - Vote will give Green Party a great opportunity at polls

By Kjersten Jeppesen

The June 2010 California ballot will include the California Fair Elections Act (CFEA) as a pilot project.

If passed, CFEA will provide public financing on a voluntary basis for candidates running for Secretary of State in 2014 and 2018.

Candidates could choose public funding or the traditional method of fundraising. If candidates choose public funding, they would agree not to accept any private funding.

To qualify for the public funds, candidates would be required to collect a specified number of five-dollar "seed money" contributions along with registered voter signatures.

The donation is to insure that each signature is backed by actual support for the candidate, to discourage frivolous candidates. Proceeds will go into the public campaign fund as "seed money." Within 24 hours, candidates would receive matching funds to counter an opponent's attack.

Major party candidates would be required to collect 7,500 five-dollar donations and registered voter signatures for the primary election.

"Third" parties and independents would have two options. In order to receive the full general election baseline funding amount of $1,300,000, he/she would have to collect twice as many five-dollar "seed money" donations and signatures ($15,000) as that required by major party candidates.

Or, by gathering 3,750 signatures and donations (half that required for major candidates), a Green candidate could receive 25 percent of the baseline amount for the general election, or $250,000. That's still a sizable sum by our standards.

If voters approve CFEA, it would provide a major opportunity for the Green Party. For the first time, Green candidates would receive public funding in a general election.

"Third" party or independent candidates could be awarded public funding in an amount formerly only dreamed about. The challenge is in qualifying.

Qualified candidates would be allowed to place a 250-word statement in the sample ballot. This alone is a boon for a Green, but the real prize is that candidates would be required to engage in two public debates in the general election.

If passed, CFEA will sunset in 2019. Hopefully by then, the pilot project will have provided enough foundational experience for the public, and California will go the way of other states in which public funding has been found to be very successful, and in which the majority of candidates participate.

For example, 81 percent of candidates in Connecticut and 85 percent in Maine were elected by public funding only, leaving them free of obligation to special interests. In Arizona, 9 of 11 candidates were elected with public funds only, and voter turnout increased by 24 percent. CFEA provides that public funds would come from voluntary contributions designated on state tax returns and on an increase in the registration fee for lobbyists, lobbying firms, and employers of lobbyists.

Presently the fee is $12.50 per year, one of the lowest in the U.S. It would increase to $350, the same as in Illinois. None of the funding will come from the state's general fund.

Are we ready for the challenge? Shall we start planning now to get out the vote and counter big money opposition? To study the Secretary of State's office thoroughly, and find the best qualified Green candidate(s)?

To prepare our candidate(s), and develop and define their positions? To establish support in preparation for the donation/signature gathering and the final campaign?

We need to be ready. Opportunity awaits.

For more information: see California Clean Money Campaign