A Proposition 200 Close-Up

Proposition 200, the Citizens Clean Elections Act, would give candidates for statewide and legislative offices the opportunity to opt for nearly complete public financing. They'd be allowed to raise a small amount of private cash for exploratory committees. The rules would not apply to candidates for federal or local elections, or ballot propositions.

How candidates would qualify for Clean Elections campaign funds:
Legislative candidates who volunteered for the Clean Elections program would have to gather the required number of signatures on nominating petitions, plus $5 donations from 200 individuals within their districts.

Candidates for statewide office would need more $5 donations from individuals--500 to run for mine inspector; 1,500 for corporation commission, treasurer and superintendent of public instruction; 2,500 to run for secretary of state or attorney general; and 4,000 to run for governor.

Candidates gathering the requisite number of $5 donations would be eligible for public financing for the primary election--$10,000 for legislative candidates; $20,000 for mine inspector; $40,000 for corporation commission, treasurer and schools chief; $80,000 for secretary of state and attorney general; and $340,000 for governor.

Primary winners would graduate to new levels of public financing for the general election--$15,000 for legislative candidates; $30,000 for mine inspector; $60,000 for corporation commission, treasurer and schools chief; $120,000 for secretary of state and attorney general; and $570,000 for governor.

How Clean Elections candidates could match privately funded opponents' campaign dollars:

Clean Elections candidates whose opponents don't participate would be eligible for more public funds to match a foe's spending--up to three times the limit. Such a candidate for the Legislature could get as much as $75,000 to match a big-spending opponent; a gubernatorial candidate could receive up to $2.85 million to battle an opponent who spent that much.

Candidates who accept private donations would see the maximum sums allowable from contributors reduced by 20 percent.

Clean Elections candidates who were attacked--or whose opponents were backed--by third parties employing so-called "issue" ads could also get funds to match any spent by the third party.

How the program would be run:
The act would create a bipartisan Clean Elections Commission that would enforce the rules of the game, including determining if a candidate spent public funds on things unrelated to the campaign. Alleged violations would be referred to the Attorney General's Office for prosecution. Guilty parties could be disqualified as candidates or be removed from office, and face civil and/or criminal penalties, although the crimes are designated misdemeanors. The five-member commission, which would have subpoena power, would be appointed by elected officials from both parties. No more than two commissioners could be from the same political party or the same county.

The commission would also have voter-education responsibilities, arranging for candidate statements to be mailed with sample ballots and sponsoring candidate debates "in such manner as determined by the commission." Clean Elections candidates would be required to participate in debates, and candidates not enrolled in the Clean Elections program would be invited to participate in the debates as well.

How the program would be financed:
The Clean Elections program would be funded through a $5 tax checkoff on state income tax returns; by increasing the annual $25 registration fee charged to lobbyists to $100; by a 10 percent surcharge on criminal and civil fines levied by state courts; and by allowing taxpayers to redirect up to $500 or 20 percent of their annual state income tax (whichever is greater) to the Clean Elections Fund.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee studied the formula and estimated that, while the Clean Elections Fund would draw money from the state general fund during election years, it would more than make up the difference during non-election years. The JLBC projects that through 2003, the program would result in a $12.5 million net gain to the state general fund. In that year, the surcharge on fines should account for about 70 percent of total revenues, the JLBC reported.

--Jeremy Voas

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Jeremy Voas