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Editorial Cartoon: Peace in Gaza
Editorial Cartoon: Peace in Gaza
Published April 19, 2024

Minnesota needs big democracy, not big money

Take these facts into consideration: Close to half of all U.S. senators are millionaires. The Legislature is only 27 percent women and less than 4 percent people of color. Coincidence? I think not.

Big money intertwines with and is taking control of our political system. Politicians are afraid to anger their donors and so are becoming more restricted in their decisions in office. And high campaign costs limit who can run. Campaigning today means spending more time on the phone fund raising than interacting with constituents. If candidates run for office without knowing their constituents, they are not representing their districts or the state. This changes the agenda of Minnesota’s government and undermines our democracy.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The answer in Minnesota is the Fair and Clean Elections Act.

Public funding for campaigns should be available to candidates who can prove they have strong support in their districts. The Fair and Clean Elections Act proposal, modeled after successful systems in Maine and Arizona, provides a limited but sufficient amount of public financing to candidates who choose to participate and can show support for their campaign by collecting small donations ($5 to $50) from a minimum number of people. At least half of the support must come from within the candidate’s district. The amount of financing increases if they run against opponents who do not use the system, are targeted by independent expenditures or advance through a primary. Funding would come from a small surcharge on judgments in lawsuits – not from raising taxes.

Not only do political candidates favor the act, but most people do. A national survey from the Mellman Group found 67 percent of the public favors replacing our campaign finance system with one that offers nearly full public financing to candidates.

The Fair and Clean Elections Act will strengthen our democracy. There will be a greater diversity of candidates and elected officials, and public involvement will increase because of the need to collect small donations and demonstrate public support.

Implementing clean elections will change both who runs for office and what they do once elected. Less fund raising means more time with constituents. Once freed from the need for big, special-interest campaign donations, politicians will be able to vote in the best interests of their districts.

The Fair and Clean Elections Act is the solution to the breakdown of Minnesota’s campaign finance system. Clean campaigns are not a partisan issue but rather an issue that holds our democracy at stake.

Students and the community are already organizing. If you want to get involved, join the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group’s democracy task force or write your legislators. Let them hear new voters’ voices.

Jacquelyn Hartwig is a fourth-year student and program associate for the Democracy Campaign at the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group.

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