Nurses’ clean-money campaign

David Welch has been a registered nurse since 1981 and is a member of the California Nurses Association’s board of directors. He works at Enloe Medical Center.

Corruption in politics is like the weather: Everyone complains about it, but no one does anything.

Until now.

Members of the California Nurses Association have been out in our communities gathering signatures to put clean-money elections on the ballot. Hopefully, by the time you read this we are submitting enough signatures to qualify. We call it the California Nurses’ Clean Money and Fair Elections Act of 2006.

What does that mean? The essence of clean money is public financing of candidate elections. A candidate who chooses to run as a clean-money candidate must gather a certain number of $5 contributions from the public as seed money. Once the candidate qualifies, those contributions are turned over to the Fair Political Practices Commission, which then finances the candidate’s campaign from public funds. The money comes from a tiny increase—one-fifth of 1 percent—in the corporate tax rate.

The system is voluntary, but the experience in other states (Arizona, Maine, Connecticut) is that the number of candidates who opt in increases each time. Who wants to be known as the dirty-money candidate?

Besides those core provisions, our act will also limit campaign donations from all sources for candidates who choose not to participate and restrict corporate funding of initiatives.

Many folks are surprised to see nurses taking the lead in this effort. What do nurses know about politics? Plenty. Our association fought a decade-long battle to create the first staffing-ratio law in the nation. Then we had to fight again to defend it against a governor doing the bidding of his big-money contributors. Many of us spent much of last year joining teachers, firefighters and others in defeating an unnecessary special election. We’ve had plenty of chances to see how our current campaign finance system fails the people of California. And we’ve had plenty of chances to see how it corrupts politicians of both parties.

Nurses also have a special perspective that few others share. We see up close how failed public policy hurts real people. We see the pain, suffering and unnecessary cost that results when laws passed to benefit big corporations keep people from getting the care they need.

We hear from lots of our fellow citizens who are fed up with the current system. Unfortunately, too many of them have given up on making things better. Nurses haven’t given up. We face big challenges every day at work. Reforming a failed political system is a little bigger than most of our challenges—but with your help, we can do it. To learn more, go to