GOVERNMENT REFORM

» Government Ethics and Lobbying Reform

» Money in Politics

» Open Government

» Stealth PACs

» Public Protections

Sign Up

To receive regular updates on our campaigns for government accountability. 

Recent Reports

June 25, 2014 - A Rising Tide
Jan. 14, 2014 - Part 2: Beware of a Naive Perspective
Jan. 7, 2014 - Part 1: Beware of a Naive Perspective
June 12, 2013 - The Perils of OIRA Regulatory Review
More - See More Government Reform Reports

QUESTIONS:

1.) What are Fair Elections?
2.) Why do we need Fair Elections?
3.) What are the benefits to participating in the Fair Elections system?
4.) Would the Fair Elections system mandate participation?
5.) How does a candidate qualify for the Fair Elections benefits?
6.) How much funding does a participating candidate receive?
7.) What are obligations of participating candidates?
8.) How could a participating candidate compete against a self-funding billionaire or massive independent expenditures?
9.) How much would the Fair Elections system cost?
10.) How would the Fair Elections system be paid for?
11.) Is the Fair Elections system constitutional?
12.) Has the Fair Elections idea been piloted successfully somewhere?
13.) What groups are supporting the Fair Elections Now Act?

ANSWERS:

1) What are Fair Elections?

The Fair Elections Now Act would help restore public confidence in the Congressional election process by providing qualified candidates for Congress with grants, matching funds, and vouchers from the Fair Elections Fund to replace campaign fundraising that largely relies on large donors and special interests. In return, participating candidates would agree to limit their campaign spending to the amounts raised from small dollar donors plus the amounts provided from the Fund.

2) Why do we need Fair Elections?

The costs of Senate campaigns are rapidly spiraling out of control. Members are being forced to spend more and more time raising money rather than legislating, and challengers are struggling to raise the money it takes to compete.  As the costs of campaigning rise and the reliance on wealthy donors increases, public opinion of our democracy sours.

The Fair Elections Now Act would restore public confidence in the election process by allowing qualified candidates to receive campaign funds from the Senate Fair Elections Fund to supplement their small-dollar fundraising, instead of relying largely on money from wealthy private interests. In return, participating candidates would voluntarily agree to limit their campaign spending to the amounts allocated to them by the program and to contributions raised from small-dollar donors that give $100 or less per donor per election.

This voluntary alternative to traditional privately financed campaigns would free candidates from the incessant, time-consuming money chase that has tainted public perceptions of elected officials and fostered abuses that undermine our democracy. Candidates could instead devote their time and energy to talking with their constituents about the issues that are important to them.

3) What are the benefits to participating in the Fair Elections system?

Participating candidates will receive enough campaign funds to be competitive, and will additionally receive free media vouchers and a 20% discount below the lowest unit cost on broadcast advertising in the run-up to the election. Moreover, they are freed to spend more time with the voters and less time with donors.

4) Would the Fair Elections system mandate participation?

No.   The system is voluntary, and only candidates that choose to participate and that qualify will be considered Fair Election candidates.

5) How does a candidate qualify for the Fair Elections benefits?

To demonstrate viability as a candidate, a candidate must gather a minimum number and amount of qualifying contributions of between $5 and $100 from in-state donors. The minimum number of qualifying contributions required for a candidate in any particular state is determined by the following formula: 2,000 + 500*(# of Congressional districts).

The minimum amount of qualifying contributions required is 10% of the grant to which the candidate would be eligible for the primary election if the candidate were to qualify (as described below). In Illinois, for example, a candidate must raise at least $241,200 from at least 11,500 in-state donors.

6) How much funding does a participating candidate receive?

The amount of funding that a candidate would be eligible to receive for the general election is based on the following formula: $750,000 + ($150,000 x (# of Congressional districts)). The funds available for the primary would equal 67% of general election allocation.  Exceptions are made for runoff and uncontested elections.

In addition, contributions raised from in-state donors would be matched 4:1 for up to 200% of the grant for which that candidate would be eligible for a given election. Finally, participating candidates for the general election would receive vouchers that could be used to purchase television advertising based on the following formula:  ($100,000 x # of Congressional districts).

In Illinois, for example, a participating candidate could raise an unlimited amount of $100 contributions per donor in each of the primary and general elections.   For the primary election the candidate would receive a $2,412,000 grant and up to $4,824,000 in matching funds. For the general election the candidate would receive a $3,600,000 grant, up to $7,200,000 in matching funds, and $1,900,000 in vouchers. In total, a participating candidate would receive $19,936,000 if enough contributions were raised from in-state donors to receive the maximum amount in matching funds.

7) What are obligations of participating candidates?

Fair Election candidates must pledge not to accept private donations in excess of $100 per election per donor, and must participate in one debate for the primary and two debates for the general election.

8) How could a participating candidate compete against a self-funding billionaire or large amounts of independent expenditures?

A Fair Elections candidate could raise an unlimited amount of small-dollar donations if needed, and would qualify for matching funds up to the prescribed cap.   Based on historical precedent, only in very rare cases would a participating candidate be excessively outspent by a non-participating candidate.

9) How much would the Fair Elections system cost?

No official score has been developed, but assuming one candidate in each Senate race participates in the Fair Elections program, the Senate Fair Elections system will cost approximately $186 million per year. This estimate will be refined over time.

10) How would the Fair Elections system be paid for?

Fair Elections would be financed via a .5% fee assessed on federal contractors that receive over $10 million from the federal government in a calendar year, with a maximum fee equal to $500,000.

11) Is the Fair Elections system constitutional?

Yes. Since it is an optional system it would pass the most commonly-cited constitutionality test established in Buckley v. Valeo.

12) Has the Fair Elections idea been piloted successfully?

Yes. The following table summarizes the Fair Elections-type systems that have already been implemented at the state and local levels with much success.

 

State/
Locality

Electoral Contest(s) for which Public Funding is Available

Method of

Approval?

Year Approved

Year Implemented

Arizona

Statewide and legislative races

Ballot initiative

1998

2000

Connecticut

Statewide and legislative races

Legislation

2005

2008

Maine

Statewide and legislative races

Ballot initiative

1996

2000

New Jersey

Legislative (pilot project)

Legislation

2004

2005

New Mexico

Public Regulation Commission

Legislation

2003

2005

North Carolina

Judicial elections

 

Council of States

(pilot project)

Legislation

 

Legislation

2002

 

2007

2004

 

2008

Vermont

Governor and

lt. governor

Legislation

1997

2000

Albuquerque, N.M.

City

races

Ballot initiative

2005

2006

Portland, Ore.

City
races

Legislation

2005

2006

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13)  What groups are supporting the Fair Elections Now Act?

The following groups support the Fair Elections Now Act:

    * AFSCME
    * Americans for Campaign Reform
    * Brennan Center for Justice
    * Campaign for America’s Future
    * Campus Progress
    * Change Congress
    * Chesapeake Climate Action Network
    * Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
    * Common Cause
    * Democracy 21
    * Democracy Matters
    * Friends of the Earth
    * Greenpeace
    * League of Conservation Voters
    * League of Young Voters
    * Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund
    * MoveOn.org
    * NAACP
    * National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA
    * Progressive Future
    * Public Campaign
    * Public Citizen
    * Rock the Vote
    * SEIU
    * Sierra Club
    * US Action
    * U.S. PIRG
    * William C. Velasquez Institute

 

Copyright © 2014 Public Citizen. Some rights reserved. Non-commercial use of text and images in which Public Citizen holds the copyright is permitted, with attribution, under the terms and conditions of a Creative Commons License. This Web site is shared by Public Citizen Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation. Learn More about the distinction between these two components of Public Citizen.


Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation

 

Together, two separate corporate entities called Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation, Inc., form Public Citizen. Both entities are part of the same overall organization, and this Web site refers to the two organizations collectively as Public Citizen.

Although the work of the two components overlaps, some activities are done by one component and not the other. The primary distinction is with respect to lobbying activity. Public Citizen, Inc., an IRS § 501(c)(4) entity, lobbies Congress to advance Public Citizen’s mission of protecting public health and safety, advancing government transparency, and urging corporate accountability. Public Citizen Foundation, however, is an IRS § 501(c)(3) organization. Accordingly, its ability to engage in lobbying is limited by federal law, but it may receive donations that are tax-deductible by the contributor. Public Citizen Inc. does most of the lobbying activity discussed on the Public Citizen Web site. Public Citizen Foundation performs most of the litigation and education activities discussed on the Web site.

You may make a contribution to Public Citizen, Inc., Public Citizen Foundation, or both. Contributions to both organizations are used to support our public interest work. However, each Public Citizen component will use only the funds contributed directly to it to carry out the activities it conducts as part of Public Citizen’s mission. Only gifts to the Foundation are tax-deductible. Individuals who want to join Public Citizen should make a contribution to Public Citizen, Inc., which will not be tax deductible.

 

To become a member of Public Citizen, click here.
To become a member and make an additional tax-deductible donation to Public Citizen Foundation, click here.