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 Corporate Court's track record shows a striking tendency to elevate corporate profits and private wealth over individual rights and personal freedoms. Forty percent of the cases on today's Supreme Court docket involve or are significant to big business, a 10% increase since 2005. The Court is siding with powerful corporate interests at record rates: in the 2009-10 term, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, had one of its most successful years before the Court, winning 81% of their cases. In closely divided cases, the five most conservative justices side with big business 85% of the time--and in close cases Justice Samuel Alito has been siding with powerful corporate interests100% of the time.
The Corporate Court's decisions affect the everyday lives of millions of Americans, and the results have been disastrous. In the past several years, the Corporate Court has radically rewritten laws in order to shield big business from liability, insulate corporate interests from regulation, make it easier for companies to discriminate, and enable powerful interests to flood our elections with special interest dollars.
Congress has the power to repair some of the damage caused by the Corporate Court. After the Supreme Court undermined settled antidiscrimination law in Ledbetter v. Goodyear, Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 to restore Americans' rights to equal pay for equal work. Further legislation can fix some of the disastrous effects of recent decisions such as Exxon v. Baker, Riegel v. Medtronic, Gross v. FBL Financial Services, and Citizens United v. FEC, among others.
The Fair Elections Now Act would allow federal candidates to choose to run for office without relying on large contributions, big money bundlers, or donations from lobbyists. Instead, candidates would be freed from constant fundraising to focus on what people in their communities want.
The Fair Elections Now Act may be the only real remedy to Citizens United, last year’s Supreme Court decision that left the electorate at the mercy of corporate America’s financial largess, greatly diminishing the integrity of both our elections and elected officials. It would not be hyperbolic in the least to suggest one of the best ways to restore democracy -- even in the midst of an avalanche of special interest money – is through public financing. As Brennan Center and campaign finance expert Monica Youn testified today, “by allowing candidates to run viable campaigns through reliance on small donations and public funds alone, public financing reduces the threat that big money will have a corrupting influence [both perceived and actual] on the political process.”
The experience of states that have adopted similar laws shows, such laws promote robust competition for public office. In Maine, for example, a fair elections law increased participation by first-time candidates, allowed more challengers to compete, provided more choices to voters, and sharply reduced large private contributions. Similarly, in Arizona the average number of candidates for state office has increased 23% since the law’s passage in 2000. An added benefit is that women and minorities are more likely to run in elections when such a funding mechanism is available.
Providing public financing for federal elections is a necessary, effective, and constitutional response to last year’s game-changing Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC. The Fair Elections Now Act fights corruption and the appearance of corruption by reducing elected officials’ dependence on large donors. It encourages constituent-focused campaigns, and increases the power and participation of small donors in elections. Ultimately, public financing restores voters to their central role in our democracy.
With Citizens United, the age-old problem of big money in politics has reached a historic inflection point. In that case, the Court overturned decades of law restricting corporate campaign spending. In doing so, the Court re-ordered the priorities in our democracy—amplifying special interests while displacing the voices of the voters.
The 2010 midterm elections gave us a preview of what we can expect in 2012, and beyond. In the first post-Citizens United election, tens of millions of dollars from corporate treasuries were spent to influence the electoral process, leaving voters and grassroots groups consigned to the political margins. Many big spenders—including corporate interests—were able to shield their identities through gaping loopholes in federal disclosure law. In fact, 35 percent of all independent spending was done in the dark.
Statement by Bob Edgar on introduction of Fair Elections Now Act
Today’s introduction of the Fair Elections Now Act offers Congress a chance to spare itself and the country from an all-consuming chase for special interest campaign contributions in 2012. By letting candidates run on a mix of small donations from individuals and matching public funds, this legislation would put participating candidates in closer touch with the people they hope to represent and break the grip big-money interests have on our political system. It’s time to get it passed.
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."