Senators Durbin and Specter introduce landmark bill to change how America finances congressional elections

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WASHINGTON, DC — Groups representing millions of voters applauded the introduction Tuesday of landmark bipartisan federal campaign finance legislation that would create a voluntary system of public funding for qualifying congressional candidates. Reform advocates hailed the bill as a step toward making elections about people and ideas – not special interest money.

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) introduced the Fair Elections Now Act, which is modeled on the successful public financing systems used for the past four election cycles in Maine and Arizona. The proposed law offers candidates for office a set amount of public money if they agree to strict spending limits and to accept only small — $100 or less — campaign contributions from individuals. Participants also would be eligible for free media vouchers and discounted commercial advertising rates.

With a proven track record of support from both voters and state candidates, Fair Elections – also popularly known as “Clean Elections” – is the ultimate solution to the problem of big money in politics, which has played out prominently in front-page scandals featuring the likes of former Republican Reps. Bob Ney of Ohio and Randy “Duke” Cunningham of California, both in jail after admitting to taking money for legislative favors. The excesses of jailed former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who lavishly wined, dined and entertained members of Congress in exchange for legislative favors and became the poster boy for the corrupting influence of money in politics, also helped spur the call for change.

Fair Elections would help inoculate voters from this most prevalent kind of political corruption – and the perception of it – and give citizens a stronger voice and sense of ownership of their government. Candidates would be freed from the money chase to spend more time and energy focusing on their constituents’ concerns, and on the nation’s most pressing issues.

Public support for Fair Elections has surged in recent years in response to the scandals that have plagued Capitol Hill and many state capitals. National polling conducted last year by Lake Research Partners and Bellwether Research found 74 percent of respondents support public funding of elections, with strong support from Democrats, Republicans and independents alike. The polling memo is available for viewing at:{FB3C17E2-CDD1-4DF6-92BE-BD4429893665}/POLLING RESULTS.PDF

Fair Elections will also help control the spiraling costs of campaigns. Over the last three election cycles, the average cost of the 10 most expensive Senate campaigns has more than doubled, from about $17 million in 2002 to nearly $35 million in 2006.

The escalating costs show no sign of letting up, which means candidates will simply need to raise more and more money each election. Under a Fair Elections system, candidates would run on the quality of their ideas, not the size of their war chests. Fair Elections levels the playing field for candidates who qualify for public money by proving they have adequate support.

“Senator Durbin and Senator Specter are a tremendous bi-partisan team. This bill is modeled after successful programs in a number of states and cities. It recognizes that voters deserve the chance to elect people who aren’t beholden to lobbyists and big money. American politics will be invigorated, and voters given a huge new voice, if Congress passes this bill,” said Michael Waldman, executive director of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

“It is time to completely overhaul the broken campaign financing system,” said Jon Goldin-Dubois, executive vice president of Common Cause. “Fair Elections will ensure that the voices of voters, not lobbyists and special interests, are heard in Washington. Fair Elections will allow candidates to run successful campaigns based on ideas, not based on who can raise the most money. And Fair Elections will ensure that politicians work on the problems that voters, not lobbyists, care about.”

“Students across the country have been rallying around the implementation of Fair Elections because it affects all the other political issues they care about: civil rights, the environment, war and peace, healthcare and more. With the passage of this legislation the cynicism that plagues many of today’s young people will begin to fade as their voices will finally be able to compete on a level playing field,” said Daryn Cambridge, regional field director for the Democracy Matters Institute.

“This is a bold effort to turn the big money culture of Washington upside down,” said Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Public Campaign. “Under the Fair Elections Now Act, candidates will depend on ordinary voters in their districts to run a competitive campaign for office.”

“Elections today turn public-spirited candidates into indentured servants of the industries that pay the most for campaigns – through PAC money, bundling of executives’ contributions and hosting ‘honorary’ events for members,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “This system undercuts our society. It must be reformed.”

“Right now wealthy interests have far too great a say in our elections. Modern campaigns have become less about deep ideas and more about deep pockets. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be,” said U.S. PIRG’s Gary Kalman. “The Fair Election Now Act offers a real alternative, one that puts voters ahead of the powerful few.”

In addition, the Fair Elections Now Act has received backing from a diverse array of groups representing millions of citizens, including the League of Women Voters, NAACP, Sierra Club, AFL-CIO, Americans for Campaign Reform, National Council of Churches USA and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

For more information contact:

Jonathan Rosen, Brennan Center

(646) 452-5637

Mary Boyle, Common Cause

(202) 736-5770

Joan Mandle, Democracy Matters Institute

(315) 725-4211

Rick Bielke, Public Campaign

(202) 293-0222

Angela Bradbery, Public Citizen

(202) 588-7741

Gary Kalman, U.S. Pirg

(202) 546-9707