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Campaigning Under The Fair Elections Now Act

January 25, 2010 - by Eric Naing

As I previously mentioned, there are several options being considered by lawmakers in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, one of which has taken shape in Congress: the Fair Elections Now Act. This measure, pushed by the non-profit campaign finance reform group Public Campaign, would allow for public financing of House and Senate campaigns.

Split into two bills, the House version (H.R.1826) would deal with House campaigns and the Senate version (S.752) would deal with Senate campaigns.

Letting politicians running for Congress draw upon federal dollars to fund their campaigns, argues Public Campaign, would free those politicians from having to constantly fundraise and might even make them more independent from corporate and union donors.

So what would campaigns look like under the Fair Elections Now Act?

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 fate of the Fair Elections Now Act in Congress is unknown, the two bills have only been introduced in their respective chambers, but the idea is garnering significant support. The House bill is currently co-sponsored by 126 representatives, including three Republicans. Surprisingly, dozens of executives from many major corporations recently came out in support of the measure as well.

Though not a direct reaction to the Citizens United decision, this measure could radically reshape the way money and politics interact on a national level.

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