Originally created 12/02/99

Poll shows support for election funding



ATLANTA -- Nearly two-thirds of Georgia voters support public financing of state elections, according to a poll released Wednesday by a coalition of public interest and advocacy groups.

The telephone survey, conducted Sept. 19-22 by Atlanta-based Beth Shapiro and Associates, found that 63 percent of the 500 randomly selected registered voters interviewed support public financing of elections. Twenty-eight percent opposed the idea, and the rest had no opinion.

Clean Elections Georgia will use survey results to try to persuade lawmakers to consider creating a taxpayer-financed state election fund to support campaigns for governor, the General Assembly and other state offices, said Randall Merritt, field director of the Georgia Rural Urban Summit, the advocacy group that commissioned the poll.

Mr. Merritt and others who spoke during a news conference at the Capitol argued that corporations, unions and other special interests underwrite most campaigns under the current system. The result, they said, is lawmakers who are beholden to those interests and not the public that elected them.

"Georgia politicians are caught in a bad system," Mr. Merritt said. "They need to join us and press for an alternative which will allow them to spend their time focusing on real issues, instead of campaigning for more election contributions."

No legislators attended Wednesday's news conference. Mr. Merritt conceded that none has come forward to sponsor a bill to institute public financing of elections.

The task force created by Gov. Roy Barnes in September to recommend changes in the state's campaign finance and disclosure laws ended its work last month without considering public financing. The panel concentrated instead on more timely filing of campaign finance reports, including a recommendation to require electronic filing by candidates for state offices.

"The public wants to know who's paying for their government," said Georgia Republican Chairman Chuck Clay, a member of the Campaign Finance Reform Commission. "But I don't see us funding private campaigns with tax money."

Four states -- Maine, Vermont, Arizona and Massachusetts -- have passed laws establishing public financing of elections and the legislation has survived a federal court challenge in Maine. The Maine and Arizona laws take effect with next year's elections.

At the federal level, taxpayers have been making $1 voluntary contributions on their income tax forms since the 1970s to help finance presidential campaigns. But the number of taxpayers choosing to do so has dropped in recent years.

Mr. Merritt said he's not sure what the funding source would be for a Georgia public-financing law. But whatever the source, he said it would cost taxpayers less than the current system, in which businesses contribute to candidates and in return receive laws favorable to their interests, including tax breaks.

The poll found support for public financing of elections among registered voters of both major political parties. Sixty-nine percent of Democrats and 59 percent of Republicans who responded to the survey favored the idea.

The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.