The cost of a congressional campaign, as well as candidates’ need to raise large amount of money from special interests, has spiraled out of control. In the last election, the cost of the top ten competitive Senate races averaged $34 million per campaign – double what it was just four years ago.
One direct result of this race for campaign money is the perception by voters that candidates are too busy talking to Political Action Committees (PACs) or special interests to listen to their local community-based constituents. To address this compelling problem, the NAACP supports S. 750, the Fair Elections Now Act, introduced by Senator Durbin (IL) and H.R. 1404, introduced by Congressman John Larson (CT). S. 750 / H.R. 1404 allows qualified candidates for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives to receive campaign financing from a public fund instead of from lobbyists, big corporations and other special interests.
Based on working models in Maine and Arizona, S. 750 / H.R. 1404 would create a voluntary system that gives candidates who choose to do so the option to stop attending fundraisers and dialing their “friends” for donations without risking a loss to a well-funded opponent. Participating candidates would also be required to show that they are serious contenders by raising qualifying contributions from a minimum number of in-state residents, based on the population of the state.
Once they are able to prove their viability, candidates will then begin to receive money from the “Fair Election Fund.” The amount of money each candidate would receive would be based on the population of the state. Candidates would also receive vouchers for a discount on television and radio time.
The Fair Elections Now Act would allow candidates to run for office on a blend of small contributions from individuals and limited public funds.
Candidates would qualify by raising a certain number of contributions of $100 or less from individuals in their home state. They would then receive a grant of Fair Elections funds for the primary and general election, and could continue raising unlimited small contributions. Each additional $1 raised would be matched by $4 from a new Fair Elections Fund, ensuring that candidates who use the system could compete even against well-financed opponents.
States including Arizona, Connecticut, Maine and North Carolina use similar citizen-funded election systems for at least some of their elections with great success. The Fair Elections Now Act would build on those successes and carry them to Congressional contests.
The Fair Elections Now Act (H.R. 1404, S. 750) would fight corruption by enabling candidates for Congress to run viable campaigns based on small-dollar donations from real people, matched by public funds, so they could avoid taking cash from corporate lobbyists, CEOs and other special interests.
Instead of spending time asking for money from lobbyists and corporate special interest groups, candidates for elected office would be able focus their attention on voters in the communities they represent.
In the wake of the unlimited corporate spending allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Fair Elections Now Act is a particularly essential reform.
By creating a voluntary alternative to the big money chase, this legislation will free up candidates for office to spend more time hearing from small business owners and other constituents in their districts, and less time courting the favor of deep-pocketed special interests. It will ensure that the winners of elections will be free to champion the concerns of their constituents, not hamstrung by the need to pay back favors to big money donors. And it will restore faith in the integrity of our democracy.
The Fair Elections Now Act would allow candidates to run competitive campaigns for office by relying on small donations from people back home. Fair Elections Now Act would let members of Congress focus on their constituents instead of raising money from lobbyists or other special interests. Candidates would raise donations of $100 or less from their home state, which would be matched on a five-to-one basis.
CCP's poll found that Americans do not support tax funding for political candidates, and that the level of intensity shifts based on the wording of the question. The poll of 1,000 adults was developed in collaboration with University of Missouri professor Jeff Milyo and was conducted in October by YouGov as part of the recently released 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Survey, a multi-university research partnership.
"Promoters of tax financed campaigns tout many supposed benefits such as increased competition, greater candidate diversity, less corruption and reduced interest group influence, but no credible research supports those claims," said Center for Competitive Politics Vice President Allison Hayward. "Americans are leery of a billion dollar bailout for politicians based on the unproven assumptions of Washington, D.C. interest groups."