The fight for Clean Elections in Iowa is in full swing with about two weeks to go in this legislative session. What follows is an interview with Adam Mason of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. He is one the lead organizers of this campaign. Adam gives us insight to the many aspects of the campaign and tells us why Clean Elections is so important for Iowa.
1. Tell me a little bit about Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and how Clean Elections became a priority for ICCI.
A. ICCI has been around for 32 years and it’s mission is to empower and unite grassroots and communities. We have focused on neighborhood issues such the farm crisis that came with the emergence of factory farms in the 1990s. Because of factory farms, family farmers realized their voices weren’t being heard by law makers. In 2002, Granny D was a keynote speaker at a function, talking about Clean Elections and after that ICCI decided to pursue the influence of money in politics and ran a campaign to educate our members about the Clean Elections systems in other states. We also organized people to speak out.
2. What is Voter Owned Iowa Clean Elections?
A. VOICE is based largely on model legislation currently in action in Arizona and Maine. The cost of elections have increased by 50% in each elections cycle, and because of this, communities fear that their voices are not being heard by their law makers and so there is a great need to address the problems of money in politics. VOICE is sponsored by Representative Pam Jochum and Senator Mike Connolly.
3. What difference would Clean Elections make in IOWA, especially in reference to the issues you work on at ICCI?
A. Money talks less, and people talk more. The hope is that, with voter education, voter participation will be increased and to restore faith in government, and to reaffirm that the government is by the people and for the people. With Clean Elections, legislators can focus on constituents. In reference to farm factories, local people can have control of factory farms, giving them the chance to approve or deny farm factory licenses, where now legislators are backing out of their promise to give local control over factory farms because they fear the loss of their campaign contributions from factory farm owners and corporate interest wins, grassroots people lose. With Clean Elections, law makers would not have to rely on special interest money.
5. What are some of the important aspects of the Clean Elections campaign?
First, the nature of ICCI, the support has to come from the people. People have to buy in for the system to work and we do this with voter education and mobilizing grassroots support. We have phone banks set up to encourage citizens to contact their legislators to support the bill; we are planning rallies, and lobby days. The second approach is a legislative strategy to enlist the support of elected officials as well as influential community leaders who may not be campaign donors, but who are tired of being hit up and having to give these astronomical amount to fund campaign. We let them know there are other options for their money; they can provide charitable gifts to other organization or investing in the community. Also, in Iowa, we are in a unique position where we can raise the issue with presidential candidates, putting them on the spot to see if they support.
6. How long has ICCI been working on Clean Elections and how is your experience different this year than previous years with the Clean Elections bill?
A. Rep. Pam Jochum, who is the sponsor in the House, has introduced legislation in previous years. It has been stuck in the drawer, sent to committee, stuck in drawer for next year over and over again. This year a companion bill has been introduced in Senate, passed out of state government committee, and we are also receiving bipartisan support in the House. Thus far it has moved on to Appropriations committee to approve price tag.
7. What was the total dollar amount spent on campaign contributions last year?
A. If we look at candidate, parties, and PACs spent, over $65 million. Candidates for governor spent close to $16 million not including what the party, PACs and 527 spent.
8. In your estimation, what do you think it costs to win a race for a House or Senate seat?
A. To run and win a House seat is about $45K and in the Senate it cost over $100K
9. How much would the bill cover if we were to implement the Clean Elections law?
A. The plan is to spend one third of what is cost before to get it done, so in the Senate we are looking at $40K (may go closer to $60K), and House candidates will receive $30K for public financing and up to $3 million for governor. There is a provision for matching funds, so if a VOICE participant is facing a non VOICE candidate, he can still remain competitive. The incentive to spend all time fund raising is removed as a VOICE candidate.
You can find out more about VOICE and Iowa campaign for Clean Elections and what you can do to get involved here.