Smoke, Mirrors, and Campaign Reform

Far from the Beltway, in the red clay country of rural Georgia, James Gibson embraces a more ambitious notion of reform. "We need campaign spending rules that make it equal for all people running for office to have the same amount of money," he says. Gibson believes the entire system can be changed, and he’s part of a growing movement that views campaign finance reform as a civil rights issue. He’s on the front lines of an effort seeking change through the courts. Along with a coalition of civil rights groups and low-income voters, Gibson is a plaintiff in a lawsuit contending that wealth plays such a great role in deciding who gets elected that it violates the Equal Protection and First Amendment rights of lower-income voters and candidates.

This latter-day voting rights struggle came into focus during the 1996 Georgia elections. James Gibson rolled his wheelchair many miles, canvassing voters on behalf of John White, a 17-year veteran state representative and a candidate for the state senate from Albany, Georgia. Outspent by his opponent 17 times over, White lost, and Gibson believes lack of money was the reason. That’s why he joined the lawsuit seeking a federal judge’s order mandating the creation of publicly financed campaigns for state office.

Another plaintiff in the lawsuit is the director of the Southern regional office of the NAACP, Nelson Rivers. He calls publicly financed campaigns "a new weapon in our arsenal to fight for justice. Just as we fought to end the white primary, we will fight for the end of the wealth primary."

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1998
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