Reps. Larson and Jones Introduce Fair Elections Now Act

House Democratic Caucus Vice-Chair John B. Larson (D-Conn.) and Rep. Walter Jones, Jr. (R-N.C.) took a giant step today towards making elections about Main Street instead of Wall Street by introducing the Fair Elections Now Act (HR 7022). The proposal from Larson and Jones is a companion measure to the bipartisan Fair Elections Now Act (S 1285) that is sponsored by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).

The Fair Elections Now Act would create a voluntary program where congressional candidates would qualify for a grant large enough to run a competitive campaign. Candidates would qualify for the grant by demonstrating a broad base of community support by collecting a set number small dollar donations. In return for the grant, participating candidates would agree to strict campaign spending limits and forgo all private fundraising. Candidates would also receive vouchers for purchasing broadcast airtime and receive a 20 percent discount below the lowest unit cost on all advertising purchased.

The Fair Elections Now Act is modeled on successful programs in several states, including Connecticut and North Carolina, the home states of both of the sponsors of the bill introduced today. In Connecticut, 84 percent of state legislative candidates have opted into their program in this its inaugural year. In North Carolina, for the first time, a pilot full public financing of elections program for three of the state’s Council of State positions is being implemented. North Carolina’s Council of State program is based on their successful parallel program that provides candidates for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals an opportunity to run for the bench free from raising private contributions.

“It is time to restore integrity to our elections. The public must be reassured that money and influence-peddling do not shape what happens in Washington. They must have confidence that their public officials are looking out for the best interest of their constituents not the best interest of their biggest donors,” said Rep. Larson. “Elections should be decided on the basis of who the best candidate is, not just who raises the most money. And, members of Congress should be freed to spend their time legislating rather than fundraising.”

“Public campaign finance systems serve many important goals – they free lawmakers up from the time-consuming fundraising race, they allow small donors to play a critical role in elections, and they break the cozy nexus between wealthy corporate interests and policymakers. In a year where the electorate is craving change across the board, the Fair Elections Now Act would fundamentally improve the way we do elections in this country,” stated Laura MacCleery, Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center.

“The American public has seen enough failed public policies to know we cannot wait any longer to overhaul our broken campaign finance system,” said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause. “Until we take the special interests out of the business of paying for our political campaigns, we will not have policies that truly benefit the public in critical areas like the economy, health care and global warming.”

“Young people and students all over the country want to know they won’t be burdened with huge deficits and the mistakes of their elders. They are calling on elected officials to support public financing so that laws are passed in the public interest, not in the interests of wealthy special interests,” stated Adonal Foyle, chair of the Board of Democracy Matters.

“Wall Street’s campaign cash was able to buy reduced regulatory oversight of their investment policies, leading us to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and Congress offering them a $700 billion bailout,” said Public Campaign’s President and CEO Nick Nyhart. “The Fair Elections Now Act will remove the power of the big money Wall Street crowd, level the political playing field, and return Congress to the voters.”

“This is outstanding,” said David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Getting money out of politics is critical to loosening the grip of special interests on Washington. The Fair Elections Now Act will help steer us back to a real democracy, the kind where you don’t have to own an investment bank to have a voice in Washington.””The financial mess is the latest and most frightening cost of the current money and politics culture. Wall Street has paid dearly for the right to gamble away our financial security,” said the Director of the Federal Legislative Office for U.S. PIRG Gary Kalman. “Even now, the Bush Administration fix favors Wall Street over Main Street. Public financing is a critical step to change the dynamics in Washington. U.S. PIRG applauds Reps. Larson and Jones for sponsoring this important legislation.”

The longest-running Fair Elections modeled programs are in Arizona and Maine. In Arizona, nine of 11 state-wide officials, including Gov. Janet Napolitano (D-Ariz.) ran under the Clean Elections program, and in Maine 84 percent of the state legislature won their offices as Clean Elections candidates. In total, these Clean Elections programs are operating in seven states and two cities.

In the Senate, the Fair Elections Now Act is cosponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), and Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

The Fair Elections Now Coalition is the Brennan Center For Justice, Common Cause, Democracy Matters, Public Campaign, Public Citizen, and U.S. PIRG.