The cost of elections doubled in the past four years. The average price tag of a top tier Senate race came out to $34 million in '06. The next two years promise to shatter all campaign finance records, as Hillary and her competitors embark on a $500 million money chase.
At least two prominent Senators have had enough. Today Senators Dick Durbin and Arlen Specter introduced the "Fair Elections Now Act" to create--for the first time--a voluntary publicly financed system to cover Congressional campaigns.
Durbin is the number two Democrat in the Senate. Specter is the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. Thus their views carry considerable weight. Both voted for lobbying reform legislation earlier this year, but believe it didn't go nearly far enough.
"We can pass all the lobbying and ethics reforms in the world and it's won't solve the real problem," Durbin says. "Special interest money will always find new loopholes to work its way into campaigns until we change the system fundamentally." Says Specter: "Public financing will go a long way toward restoring public confidence in our electoral system."
Their legislation is based on clean election laws already in place in Arizona and Maine, which are fueled by hundreds of $5 contributions, rather than $2,100 checks written by lobbyists, big business and rich donors. The Maryland House followed suit last year. In recent days, New Jersey passed a fair elections pilot program for a select number of state legislature and Senate districts. Reps. John Tierney and Todd Platts will introduce companion legislation to the "Fair Elections Now Act" in the House of Representatives shortly.
It took seven years to pass the McCain-Feingold soft-money ban of 2002. So don't expect Durbin-Specter to sail through overnight. But at least the conversation is shifting, from how corrupt Washington is to how to clean it up.