Progress for Fair ElectionsSeptember 16, 2010 - by Donny Shaw
Publicly-funded congressional campaigns are about to move one step closer to becoming a reality. The Fair Elections Now Coalition announced this afternoon that the House Committee on Administration has scheduled a mark-up session of Rep. John Larson’s [D, CT-1] Fair Elections Now Act, which would allow federal candidates to finance their campaigns with public funds rather than having to spend their time fundraising from special interests and corporations. The bill has been sitting in Congress for four years. This will be the first time it has advanced in the lgislative process at all, and it will likely lead to a full House vote in the coming weeks.
In January, former OpenCongress research assistant Eric Naing provided a great overview of what congressional campaigns under the Fair Elections Now Act would look like:
First of all, candidates have to qualify to receive federal dollars. House candidates need to raise $50,000 from at least 1,500 contributors from the state in which the candidate is running. These contributions can be no greater than $100. The amount of money and number of contributors required for Senate candidates depends on the population of the state in which the candidate is running.
Once they qualify, Congressional candidates would have access to a certain amount of federal campaign dollars depending on what office they are running for and in what state. House candidates can receive what amounts to $900,000 total. Senate candidates can receive $1.25 million along with an additional $250,000 for each Congressional District in that candidate’s state. In either case 40% of the money would go toward the primary and 60% would be for the general election.
Candidates would also be able to receive additional matching funds for small donations if they face a wealthy or self-financing opponent. Also available would be vouchers and discounts for advertising costs.
Public Campaign predicts this public financing program will cost around $700 to $850 million per year. The costs in the House would in part be paid for by the sale of broadcast spectrum. The Senate costs would be paid for with a fee on large government contractors.
The skeptic in me wonders: Why, after four years, are the Dems scheduling a committee vote now — and likely a full House vote — with so few legislative work days left before a highly partisan election? Is it just that it’s a safe time to take this popular vote, knowing full well that there’s no way the Senate will have time to take this up before they adjourn for the year? But there’s also definitely more to the story. The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United that corporate donations cannot be limited really accelerated the drive for campaign finance reform both in and out of Congress. Whereas the Fair Elections Now Act had just 2 co-sponsors in the House in the previous session of Congress, it now has 164, including a handful of Republicans. Groups like Public Campaign and Fix Congress First have been working harder than ever to round up support for this district-by-district. Let’s see what happens.