If passed, the legislation will end the pay-to-play system eroding our democracy
October 14, 2010
By Tenzin Pelkyi
Democracy won a historic victory Sept. 23 when the Committee on House Administration approved the bipartisan Fair Elections Now Act (H.R. 6116) and sent it to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote.
This was the result of a nationwide effort to end the pay-to-play system of campaign finance that has given the wealthy economic interests undue access and influence in Washington, while the voices of voters go unheard.
Such a corrupt and inequitable system has proven to be ineffectual. It has produced the greatest environmental disaster in our nation’s history, an economic crisis unmatched in scale and devastation since the Great Depression, a broken education system and has left taxpayers to clean up after Wall Street’s mess.
But a new system of Fair Elections promises to change all that. In the most sweeping reform since Watergate, those who are elected to office would essentially be held accountable to their constituents, not to special interests. It would reduce the impact of lobbyists and interest groups and allow us to elect representatives accountable to us — not to the corporations and lobbyists who finance their campaigns.
Modeled on similar public financing laws with proven success in several states and cities — including Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Portland, Oregon and New Mexico — this comprehensive solution to the underlying problem of money in politics has gained popularity among voters as well as lawmakers nationwide.
Women and minorities have generally been underrepresented and underfunded in the political process, with the concentration of wealth typically in the hands of a few, mostly older white males. But with the implementation of a Fair Elections system, qualified candidates are able to run competitive races without needing to be either already independently wealthy or having access to private donor networks.
Since Arizona’s adoption of a full public financing system in 2000, the number of candidates of color there has gone up each election cycle, with those who use public funds markedly increasing each year. A survey by the Institute for Fair Elections showed that an overwhelming majority of candidates of color admitted to not being able to run without Fair Elections Funds.
In a citizen-funded Fair Elections system, federal candidates would be required to raise a specified number of contributions no larger than $100 from their home state, which would then be matched four-to-one from a Fair Elections fund with a set limit, paid for from broadband spectrum sales, at no additional cost to taxpayers.
A recent Lake Research Partners survey showed broad support across party lines for Fair Elections by almost two-thirds of voters in key battleground states. A recent ad also showed consensus among the Tea Party as well as liberals on the need for Fair Elections. In the ad, individuals interviewed at progressive events as well as Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally attested to the fact that money has too much influence in the way elections are funded.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court struck down decades-old limits on corporate and union spending in a landmark ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. This controversial decision will essentially unleash the floodgates for unlimited corporate spending in elections.
Needless to say, this lack of accountability will seriously undermine our democratic process and drown out the voices of ordinary American citizens. As long as politicians are accountable to the corporations and lobbyists who finance their campaigns, they are never going to be accountable to the people who elected them. It is time we made our voices heard again.