At this perilous moment, as we face key battles on the economic crisis, climate change, healthcare, and a slew of other issues, it’s important to recognize that these fights will not be settled in one fell swoop this year or next, but will play out over the coming decade or more. Working against bold, progressive solutions on all of these issues is a constant problem: big money donors hold sway, shifting the policy debate and shafting the common good. Only through real campaign reform will we level the playing field so that the voices of ordinary people are heard loud and clear inside the Beltway.
That’s why it’s so important that the Fair Elections Now Act has been introduced in both the House and Senate with bipartisan support, and that a savvy coalition is rallying public support for it, including: Change Congress, Public Campaign, Common Cause, Public Citizen, US PIRG, Brennan Center for Justice, Americans for Campaign Reform, MoveOn, and others.
Change Congress — an organization launched by Lawrence Lessig and Joe Trippi to reduce the influence of money in politics — has taken the lead on organizing an online strategy. Lessig said, “My view is it’s finally time for us to do what Teddy Roosevelt suggested we do about 102 years ago, which is to bring about an election system where what’s driving the results is fear about how voters in the district will respond, rather than fear about how the funders will respond.”
The bill provides qualified candidates the opportunity to run with a mixture of small-dollar contributions and public money. Candidates who raise a large number of small contributions ($100 or less) from their home state qualify for a set amount of public money that will make them competitive. If the candidate chooses, he or she can continue to raise small donations and receive a 4:1 match — up to a specified cap — in order to compete on a level playing field with wealthy, self-financed candidates and those raising money in the traditional way. There are also resources in the bill for media time when candidates get to the general election. In determining the caps and amounts of money required to make candidates competitive, advocates did some good research on how states with these kinds of laws have worked and also examined the fundraising stats of past Congressional races.