CIVIL RIGHTS REFORM As House Republican leaders thwarted debate on the tepid Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform bill, the NAACP convention chose a radically different course by endorsing full public financing of campaigns. Noting that 95 percent of campaign contributions in excess of $200 come from white givers, the NAACP resolution declared that the current system "unfairly dilutes the political strength of African-Americans in participating in political parties, elections and the passage of legislation." Says Georgia NAACP state conference president Walter Butler, "We know that [campaign finance reform] is a civil rights issue that should be dealt with as other civil rights issues in the past." The NAACP vote came as Congressional Black Caucus members were questioning, and in some cases opposing, milder reforms. "There's a lot of skepticism, a lot of fear that campaign finance reform, if it's done wrong, could end up hurting black candidates," says Fannie Lou Hamer Project executive director Stephanie Wilson. "We've spent a lot of time arguing that only with public financing can African-American candidates really break through the barriers." In North Carolina the National Voting Rights Institute has sued the state on behalf of the NAACP and other groups, arguing that costly campaigns serve as a "poll tax," violating constitutional guarantees that economic status should not serve as a barrier to political participation.... An assist for the new drive comes from Adonal Foyle, center for the NBA's Golden State Warriors. Foyle founded Democracy Matters, whose fifteen coordinators will build support on college campuses for public financing. Foyle argues that if players had to buy their way into the NBA, people wouldn't take it seriously. Yet "that's what has happened in politics."
MASSACHUSETTS MISCHIEF Massachusetts voters in 1998 overwhelmingly endorsed a Clean Elections initiative designed to flush special-interest money out of politics. But public financing only functions when legislators allocate the money for it. The Massachusetts Senate did that by a 36-2 vote, but powerful House Speaker Thomas Finneran is balking, even as 2002 races for governor and other posts get under way. "I used to think Massachusetts was an initiative state before I met the Massachusetts legislature," says David Donnelly, of Massachusetts Voters for Clean Elections, which has been organizing protests and rallies. Outside Boston's historic Faneuil Hall, former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, who now heads Common Cause, urged legislators to "remember they were elected by the people, not by Tom Finneran." US Representative Marty Meehan said, "When I see Democrats playing games at the State House, I say that's the best weapon they can give the Republicans for the next election."
ALTERNATIVE POLITICS Campaign finance reform isn't the only electoral change on the agenda this summer. By a 10-1 vote the San Francisco Board of Supervisors set a March 2002 referendum on adopting instant-runoff voting (IRV) for local posts. IRV, devised as an alternative to winner-take-all elections, allows voters to rank candidates for an office. If a first-choice candidate is eliminated, the vote automatically transfers to the second choice. A San Francisco win "could put instant-runoff voting on the radar across the country," says Rob Richie of the Center for Voting and Democracy. Vermont, Alaska and New Mexico are also considering IRV proposals.... Another alternative, cumulative voting, under which voters apportion their votes among candidates, has earned enthusiastic support from an Illinois task force chaired by former GOP Governor Jim Edgar and former Democratic Representative (and federal judge) Abner Mikva. The state once had a cumulative system, but it was scrapped twenty-one years ago as part of a move to downsize the legislature. Since the change, Illinois has witnessed dramatic declines in the number of contested legislative races and in voter turnout.
RELIGIOUS LEFT The Unitarian Universalist Association's new president, William Sinkford, left no doubt about what his promise of "radical fellowship" would mean for the 220,000-member denomination. "During my presidency, our Unitarian Universalist voice will support racial justice and gender justice and equal rights for our bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender brothers and sisters," Sinkford announced in a speech following his election as the predominantly white religious group's first African-American leader. "We will speak for responsible stewardship of the environment. And we will work to redress the economic injustices that plague our society." The denomination's Cleveland general assembly voted to make economic globalization a primary issue for 1,050 UU congregations, following an appeal from Chuck Collins of United for a Fair Economy and strong support from the convention's large youth caucus. With Congress expected to act this year on granting President Bush fast-track authority to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, Unitarian Universalists for a Just Economic Community is gearing up a grassroots education and lobbying push to challenge trade policies that Collins says "are about profits, not values."