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'Clean elections' -- an idea that deserves attention

There are three states in the nation that are experimenting with something called "clean elections." Arizona, Maine and Vermont are offering to pay for a candidate's campaign. That means no fund-raisers, no influence peddling, no paying out the nose for TV ads. We think this is an idea other states -- including West Virginia -- should look into.

In Arizona, if a candidate for the legislature signs on, he receives $25,000 in state money. It allows a candidate to be a candidate, not a beggar. He doesn't have to do the rubber chicken circuit and go hat in hand to donors. Gary Richardson, a Republican running for the Arizona Senate, signed on and now he goes out to meet the voters.

"It's freed me up to do the campaigning like I like to do," he said. "I'm just letting them know I'm just like them."

So where does the public money come from? Much is derived from fees on speeding tickets, court fees and annual fees charged to lobbyists. Also, taxpayers can put $5 of their tax payment into the fund.

One of the big advantages of such a system is the effect on the voters. They would know that Candidate X is not getting thousands of dollars from special interests. As a result, Candidate X would not be beholdin' to these special interests once in office. In addition, Candidate X would not have to spend month after month raising funds for the next election.

Public funding for campaigns would likely restore voters' faith in the system -- faith that has been badly shaken in recent years. Once their faith is restored, voter turnout would probably increase.

This kind of a system would give a candidate an opportunity to challenge an incumbent who many times is awash in money and is hard to unseat. It may not level the playing field, but it would give someone a fighting chance.

Detractors dismiss "clean elections," complaining that taxpayer money is used for wacko candidates on the fringes. But even the champion of campaign finance reform, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, gives grudging support to the idea. He prefers limits on contributions rather than government-funding, but "any campaign finance proposal is better than the current situation."

We agree. We hope the idea spreads from sea to shining sea.

Today's editorial reflects the opinion of the Exponent editorial board, which is comprised of James G. Logue, Kevin S. Courtney, Patrick M. Martin, Matt Harvey, Nora Edinger and J. Cecil Jarvis.

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