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Cam Noltemeyer: Fair elections for a clean environment

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: January 20, 2010 9:34 p.m.
Updated: January 21, 2010 4:55 a.m.
SCOPE began promoting clean money and fair elections with its float in Santa Clarita's 2006 Fourth of July parade. We joined with the local Clean Money campaign to bring a message to Santa Clarita: the need to reduce special interest influence on our electoral process.

With three elections scheduled this year (City Council in April, primaries in June and the water agency, state and congressional elections in November), this is the time to look at which candidates are asking for money and why companies and individuals are giving it to them.

The source of campaign contributions speaks volumes about what the candidate stands for and what he or she will do when elected.
Are the funds coming from developers and the Building Industry Association? Then more than likely that candidate will be promoting development when elected. Otherwise there would be no reason for these interests to contribute to the campaign.

Is the candidate receiving donations from individuals, the Sierra Club or homeowner associations? Then more than likely those groups believe the candidate will support their viewpoints and protect the environment.

Are donations coming from a solar panel company or an oil company? This says something about the candidate. That is why financial disclosure is required, and a good reason for us to pay special attention to these disclosures.

This all seems logical until one realizes certain interests have an enormous amount of money to spend on elections while others, particularly the guy on the street, have no way to get their message out.

That means certain wealthy businesses or individuals can send mailer after mailer faulting an opponent and sometimes even defaming them, while the opposing candidate may have no money to reply with their side of the story.

A functioning democracy requires discussion and debate of the issues so better or new solutions can be reached. Big money in a campaign stifles this very basic democratic process by smothering the opposing candidate into silence.

How about publicly funded elections instead? Everywhere, people are beginning to understand that adopting a "clean money" policy restores the public trust in our elected officials.

Candidates like it because they don't have to be fundraising all the time, giving them time to focus on what they were elected to do: representing the people, not special interests.

The public likes it because it often takes the negative campaigning out of politics and brings back honest public debate.

The same forces that have corrupted politics in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., can corrupt our local Santa Clarita political system. Developer interests now primarily finance local elections. We have seen how this has undermined the moral authority and weakened the political courage of our leaders.

With some water board races now costing more than $50,000 per candidate and some City Council races costing more than $100,000, it seems impossible for someone not tied to a huge corporation bankroll to be elected to any political office here in the Santa Clarita Valley.

It is time for the people to regain control over local politics.

A system of publicly financed elections will make our officials accountable to voters, not big-money donors.

According to, clean money, or fair elections, was a success in both Arizona and Maine. The number of minority and women candidates running for offices has significantly increased.

In 2004, 83 of the Maine Senate and 77 percent of the Maine House was elected running Clean Money campaigns. In 2004, 78 percent - up from 30 percent in 2000 - of all candidates ran clean money campaigns, with 86 percent of Democratic candidates and 71 percent of Republicans running clean money campaigns.

Voter turnout has increased and candidates put voters' concerns first. In Arizona in 2004, 55 percent of all candidates ran clean money campaigns and 10 out of 11 statewide cleanly elected candidates now hold offices.

Clean money incumbents now make up 47 percent of the Arizona Legislature.

The fair elections concept is set up as a voluntary, non-partisan system in which a candidate agrees to neither collect private contributions nor spend their own money on their campaign. We don't have fair elections yet, but at least aware voters can be on the lookout for the source of campaign funding to see if those are really the interests they want to support.

We hope you will join us tonight at 7 p.m. at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Valencia (24901 Orchard Village Road) for a bipartisan discussion of how fair elections could take special interests out of politics in Santa Clarita.

Cam Noltemeyer is a Santa Clarita resident and a board member of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Environmentally Speaking" appears Thursdays and rotates among local environmentalists.


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