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"We need to incorporate communities of color into our electoral process, one which currently favors those with wealth over average citizens. A shift to a Clean Elections system such as in Arizona would ensure that all voters are an integral part of elections."
Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva


December 11, 2003

Statement of Stephanie Moore, Executive Director, Fannie Lou Hamer Project

The study we are releasing today uses facts and figures to prove what many of us have long suspected—that our current campaign finance system discriminates against people of color and other underserved communities.

Nine out of ten federal campaign dollar come from majority white neighborhoods. Yet one out of three Americans is a person of color. Something doesn’t compute.

In the 1960s, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, barriers to voting such as literacy tests, poll taxes, language requirements, intimidation and violence, became unlawful and the door to participation partially opened for people of color.

But today we have the equivalent of a new poll tax, an undemocratic barrier that stands in opposition to the kind of full and meaningful participation implicit in the principle of “one person, one vote.” That barrier is money—specifically the money it takes to have an influential voice within a system of privately-financed election campaigns.

Money drives our politics. Since 1980, the presidential candidate with the most money at the beginning of the election year has won his party’s nomination. Campaign money—not votes—is now the currency of our democracy, determining who is able to run a viable campaign for office, who usually wins, and who has the ear of elected officials.

To reclaim democracy, we need to apply the “Fannie Lou Hamer Standard,” to our political system. Fannie Lou Hamer was the legendary African-American voting rights champion who led the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City in 1964. The standard named after her is based on the sacred principle of political equality.

1 Political equality means, according to the Voting Rights Act, equal opportunity for everyone to participate in the political process, regardless of race, gender or economic status and access to wealth.

2 Political equality means “one person, one vote,” not one dollar, one vote.

3 Political equality means, in the words of President Abraham Lincoln, “government of, by, and for the people”—by which he meant all the people, not just those who can raise, or who can afford to give, big-money campaign contributions.

The only way to meet the Fannie Lou Hamer standard in the realm of campaign finance is to make average citizens and voters matter as much as big donors in terms of who gets to run a serious, viable, well-funded campaign for office. That, in my view, means offering full public financing to candidates who first demonstrate a real base of support by collecting a large number of very small, about $5, contributions from voters in their district. Such a system, as we have seen from the working Clean Elections systems in Arizona and Maine, encourages more people to run for office, especially people of color and women, precisely the groups most disadvantaged by our current system. In addition, to meet the Fannie Lou Hamer standard, we must ensure full voting access for all eligible voters; reinstate the right to vote of ex-offenders; make Election Day and Election Day Registration a holiday; and ensure that economic means are not a barrier to voting and holding political office.

We at the Fannie Lou Hamer Project are proud to be partners with Public Campaign and the William Velasquez Institute on the Color of Money, and we will be using the report and the website to further educate our community as to why we need comprehensive campaign finance reform to complete the unfinished business of the voting and civil rights movement.

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