Thursday, July 24

VOICE in the Wilderness

What will it take for Iowa to enact legislation that will lessen the power of the pocketbook of wealthy lobbying interests on the laws that affect the rest of us? VOICE (Voter-Owned Iowa Clean Elections) is an effort to do just that.

Why do we need VOICE? Common Cause says this about clean election law benefits:

• Makes candidates and elected officials accountable only to the public interest, rather than powerful special interests

• Saves taxpayer dollars by reducing inappropriate giveaways to campaign contributors

• Makes elections fair by leveling the playing field for candidates

• Allows politicians to spend less time fundraising, so they can spend more time addressing national priorities

• Gives all citizens, regardless of wealth, a fair shot to be heard and participate in every step of the democratic process

• Reinvigorates our democracy by helping to reengage voters and increasing voter turnout

However, for legislators that control what makes it to the legislative "funnel" (what bills are moved toward the governor's signature), such as Mike Gronstal, the prospect of VOICE legislation frightens them.


Well, it is about winning elections--and who has the competitive edge. Voter-Owned Elections is a voluntary system for state elections where candidates can choose to run using public funding instead of constantly fundraising and accepting monies from power groups hoping to wield their influence. It provides qualifying candidates - those who collect a set amount of signatures and $5 donations from within their district - with a set amount of money from a public source if they promise to refuse money from all other sources. I stress, it is voluntary.

For a wanna-be representative running for the Iowa House, that limit would be $15,000 of public money for a primary and $30,000 for the general election (unless they are running unopposed). For a job that pays $25,000 a year, it seems reasonable. However, the concern is that if one candidate opts in and their opponents don't, this could leave them in a huge cash disadvantage, even though the system allows the VOICE candidate to receive up matching money up to $60,000. But, if your opponent is spending $250,000 (which has happened in some high profile races in Iowa), $60,000 can seem paltry.

What is the unspoken threat of VOICE is that people do not take into account is that it allows for more than two kinds of candidates to run for office. VOICE actually creates an opportunity for a diversity of candidates to run for office and, perhaps, break the hold that a two-party system currently has--not to mention, making it harder for power brokers to buy party-line votes for their issues.

So, how does VOICE stand a chance to win approval, given it apparently bites the hands that would feed it?

Speaking just for me:

1) Voters should demand it by supporting candidates that sign a pledge to support and are willing to lead on VOICE legislation.

2) An organized effort to lobby sitting legislators needs to occur with the mantra: support VOICE or else.

3) If all else fails, push it to state referendum and/or change the Iowa Constitution.

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