It has no chance – sadly – in the current Congress, but Wednesday’s introduction of the Fair Elections Now Act deserves at least a tip of the hat to sponsoring Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, and his 23 co-sponsors for continuing to stand up for a good idea.
The bill would create an alternative and voluntary system of financing for Senate campaigns, offering candidates a way to run and win without relying on big dollar donors and all the strings that come attached to their contributions.
Similar legislation, the Government by the People Act, was introduced in the House earlier this year by Rep. John Sarbanes, D-MD
“I’m introducing the Fair Elections Now Act to put the power of our political system back into the hands of the American people, where it belongs,” Durbin said in a statement released by his office. “I first introduced this bill in 2007, and since then the need for fundamental reform to our campaign finance system has only continued to grow. Supreme Court rulings like Citizens United have given corporations and the wealthy few a blank check to influence politics and politicians in our country. We need a small-donor public financing system to curb the ever-increasing influence of big money in politics and protect our democracy.”
The Durbin and Sarbanes bills are drawn largely from successful public financing programs in Connecticut, Maine, Arizona and a number of localities across the nation, including New York City. The programs encourage people of relatively modest means who otherwise would not be able to run to get involved in politics.
Fair Elections participating senators and Senate candidates would agree to a $150 limit on the amount of money they receive from a single donor. In primary elections, those who demonstrated their viability by raising a qualifying amount of money from those small dollar gifts would be eligible for a base grant drawn from a special public account. They would also receive $6 in public funds for every $1 raised, up to a cap set in the law.
Additional grants and matching funds would be available to candidates in the general election, again if they adhere to the $150 per person limit on contributions and reject most political action committee money. An exception to the PAC ban would allow candidates to accept up to $5,000 from “People PACs,” which the bill describes as committees that only accept donations from individuals and limit those gifts to $150 per donor.
The bills also call for “My Voice Tax Credits” that would reward each small dollar political donor with a $25 refundable tax credit. The credits would be limited to individuals who contribute no more than $300 to a candidate or political party in any given year.
Durbin’s office said the proposal “wouldn’t add a dime to the deficit." It would be financed by a 0.5 percent fee on federal contracts of more than $10 million, with a maximum annual fee of $500,000.
Issues: Money in Politics