Winning Big with Small Donors: 2014 Public Financing Success in Three States
This year, voters elected nearly 300 candidates who ran using “clean election” type programs in Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine. These were candidates who relied on public grants after raising a minimum of small donations. Clean candidates can focus on broad support, often one voter and small donation at a time, not exclusive fundraisers. In Connecticut, 84% of winners ran “clean,” and in Maine, 58% of winning campaigns used the Clean Elections program, according to an analysis of state records.
High usage among women candidates is one of this model’s greatest achievements. In both Connecticut and Maine, winning female candidates used public funding at higher rates than winning men. Nine out of ten women who won state seats in Connecticut used the state’s Citizens’ Election Program. In Maine, 69% of victorious women were clean candidates.
Against a backdrop of legislative attacks (especially in Arizona) and bad court decisions, these systems continue to be used, but must be upgraded to remain viable over time. Andy Bossie, the executive director of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, said: “We have a government that was elected with more private fundraising than ever before because the courts and elected officials have weakened Clean Elections, but Maine people are coming together to change that.” On Election Day, Maine volunteers covered over 1,000 shifts at more than 200 polling places to gather signatures for a ballot initiative to update the Clean Elections Act.
Even more, based on our analysis of small donor fundraising at the federal level in the 2014 cycle, a similar federal system like the Government By the People Act (HR 20), based on small donations and public matching funds, would be viable for most House races. Under HR 20, candidates could run and win elected office by relying on everyday people, not Washington lobbyists or Wall Street bankers.
To see a full analysis of clean elections winners, and small donor fundraising at the federal level, check out our report.