Why Clean Elections Help Minority Parties

It is often cited that the adoption of Clean Elections will do harm to minority parties. If written poorly, Clean Election legislation can hurt minority parties; however, legislation in both the state of California and San Diego account for this concern and will offer much benefit to minority parties and to the political dialogue we hear during elections. Learn how they do it...

From coast to coast there is a growing frustration with the current two party political system. Very few communities offer competitive multi-party elections. Within the political context dominated by the Republicans and Democrats, very little information or dialogue concerning minority parties and minority concerns makes it to mainstream. Lisa J. Disch offers a compelling analysis of America's two party system and reasons for its entrenchment in our society in Tyranny of the Two Party System.

The purpose of this article is not to examine the extent to which both Democrats and Republicans act to protect their unnecessary domination of the political spotlight, but rather to offer evidence as to how Clean Elections (SD Clean Elections) will help create the opportunity for minority parties to challenge the two-party norm, and, in doing so, they force the political dialogue to engage in issues that are often ignored.

To begin, let's examine what it takes for a candidate to run an effective and competitive campaign for City Council in San Diego. In our most recent election, one that pitted Lorena Gonzalez (Democrat) versus Kevin Faulconer (Republican), we saw spending in the range from $150,000 to $350,000. View more political spending information at the Center for Policy Initiatives (WEBSITE).

With such a high price for competitive entry in an election, very few candidates can play hard ball. One way to gain greater access to funds and wealthy donors is by gaining the endorsement of either major political party. Gaining such sponsorship comes at a cost, candidates must temper their call to the people so that it doesn't conflict with the interests of the party; this mitigates the potential for candidates to take bold and engaging approaches to the problems we face.

Clean Election legislation, when written correctly, creates the opportunity for minority party candidates to gain access to a funding source that doesn't include censorship. Green Party (WEBSITE) Candidates can engage voters and fellow candidates in discussions about renewable energy, Libertarian Party Candidates can engage voters in talks about the excessive regulation of our public radio airwaves, and, potentially, we could see the development of a new party that focuses on affordable housing issues.

San Diego Neighborhoods for Clean Elections (WEBSITE) has crafted their ballot initiative in a way that it ensures access to any candidate that can show a certain level of public support. To gain the distinction of Clean Candidate, one must obtain a certain number of small contributions, for example, Jane Doe would have to get 1000 people to donate $5 dollars to her campaign. Jane Doe would also have to voluntarily agree not to take private contributions. When Jane Doe earns this distinction, she earns a funding source of up to $90,000 to run a clean campaign. Of course candidates don't have to go clean, they can take private donations and spend as much money as they want. This fact is often cited as reasons why clean elections in San Diego won't work.

It is important to point out that Clean Elections won't ensure a minority party victory, Clean Elections does ensure that minority parties have a better chance of getting the message heard. When people hear candidates talk about issues like renewable energy, sustainable development, and affordable housing, major party candidates must confront these issues in more depth and offer compelling solutions to deal with these issues. The primary goal of an election is to win office, a more subtle goal, and often less recognized, is the goal to change the political dialogue.

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