Sectional Summary of the Durbin-Specter FENA

Section 1.    Short title; table of contents.

TITLE I – FAIR ELECTIONS FINANCING OF SENATE ELECTION CAMPAIGNS

Subtitle A – Fair Elections Financing Program

Section 101.   Findings and declarations.

This section states the premises for the legislation.

Section 102.   Eligibility requirements and benefits of Fair Elections financing of Senate election campaigns. 

Section 102 of the bill would create a new Title V in the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act [FECA] (2 U.S.C. 431 et seq.), consisting of fifteen sections that form the centerpiece of the bill. 

The proposed new Subtitle A, General Provisions, begins with the proposed new section 501 of FECA.   This section sets forth several definitions of terms used in the new Title, including “allocation from the Fund,” “Board,” “Fair Elections qualifying period,” “Fair Elections start date,” “Fund,” “immediate family,” “matching contribution,” “non-participating candidate,” “participating candidate”, “qualifying contributions,” and “qualifying small dollar contribution.”

The proposed new section 502 of FECA establishes a Senate Fair Elections Fund within the Treasury.   It expresses the sense of the Senate that the Fund should be populated via a .5% fee on contracts paid by the federal government, to be assessed against contractors who were paid at least $10 million in a calendar year, capped at $500,000 per contractor per year.  The section delineates the other types and sources of funds to be held by the Fund (voluntary contributions, excess allocations unspent by participating candidates, program penalties, and investment returns), specifies that the fund should invest excess fund holdings to generate additional revenue, and delineates how the Fund is to be used to make payments to participating candidates.

The proposed new Subtitle B, Eligibility and Certification, begins with the proposed new section 511 of FECA.   This section specifies the general procedures, timeframes, and criteria that a candidate must meet to be eligible to receive public funds from the Senate Fair Elections Fund, including the filing of an initial statement of intent to seek certification and a subsequent affidavit declaring compliance with the requirements.

The proposed new section 512 of FECA specifies the requirements a candidate must satisfy in obtaining qualifying contributions in order to be eligible to receive Fair Elections funds, thereby effectively demonstrating viability as a candidate.   The section includes formulae for determining the minimum number and amount of qualifying contributions needed, as well as requirements relating to receipt of the sums, the information that must be obtained from contributors, and a process for verification of the amounts collected and their source.  In order to be eligible for Fair Elections funds, a candidate must gather at least 2,000 qualifying contributions plus an additional 500 for each congressional district in the state.  A candidate must also gather at least 10% of the grant amount that the candidate would receive for the primary should the candidate be certified for Fair Elections.  A qualifying contribution must be between $5 and $100, made by an individual who is a resident of the candidate’s state, and made during the qualifying period which begins 180 days before a state’s primary and closes 30 days prior to the date of that election.  The Federal Election Commission will establish procedures for verification of qualifying contributions.

The proposed new section 513 of FECA describes permissible contributions and expenditures a candidate may accept (including qualifying contributions, qualified small dollar contributions, Fair Election allocations, matching funds, and broadcast vouchers) and imposes restrictions on other sources of contributions.   Coordinated political party expenditures are not treated as expenditures by the candidate under this section, and contributions to the leadership PACs of participating candidates are subject to the same $100 cap applicable to qualifying contributions and qualified small dollar contributions.  The section also sets forth exceptions to address how a candidate may qualify despite having raised, but not spent, contributions from impermissible sources. 

The proposed new section 514 of FECA outlines the requirement that participating candidates engage in one primary election and two general election debates with other participating and other willing candidates in advance of the election.

The proposed new section 515 of FECA specifies that the Federal Election Commission is required to determine whether to certify a candidate as eligible to participate in the Senate Fair Elections Fund, and to provide notification to the candidate no later than five days after the candidate files the affidavit (as required under proposed new FECA section 512(a)(2) declaring that all requirements have been met).   The section also outlines procedures for the revocation of that certification.

The proposed new Subtitle C, Benefits, begins with the proposed new section 521 of FECA.   This section delineates the benefits to which a participant is entitled (including base allocations, matching funds, and broadcast vouchers), provides that Fair Elections money may only be used for campaign-related costs, and specifies a maximum 45-day period after the last election for which the candidate qualifies for remittance to the Fund of unspent sums.

The proposed new section 522 of FECA provides the timeframe for when the funds are to be made available (generally within 48 hours of certification), the methods of payment, the amounts to be provided to candidates, and the formulae for determining the base allocations for primary, general, runoff, special, and uncontested elections.   The base allocation for the general election is computed as follows:  $750,000 plus $150,000 for each congressional district in the state.  The primary allocation equals 67% of the general election allocation, and the runoff and uncontested election allocations equal 25% of the relevant election allocation.  This section also requires indexing of the basic allocation formula based on inflation, and includes an adjustment mechanism to reflect the unique costs of the media markets in each state. 

The proposed new section 523 of FECA establishes the rules and processes for matching payments from the Fund.   A participating candidate would receive a 4:1 match for each dollar raised from in-state donors in each election (primary, general, or runoff), subject to a cap equal to 200% of the grant allocation for that election.  The section describes how frequently participating candidates can report their collected contributions to the Commission, and requires the Commission to disburse matching funds within two days of receipt of such reports.

This proposed new section 524 of FECA provides participating candidates in the general election with vouchers for the purchase of broadcast time amounting to $100,000 per candidate times the number of congressional districts in the state.   Candidates may exchange broadcast vouchers for an equivalent value of cash with their national party organizations.   National party organizations may use the exchanged vouchers to purchase broadcast time for generic party advertising, to support state and local candidates, and to specifically support participating federal candidates.  The vouchers must be used by participating candidates before the day of the general election or by party committees before the end of the following year.

The proposed new Subtitle D, Administrative Provisions, begins with the proposed new Section 531 of FECA.   This section establishes a Fair Elections Oversight Board within the Federal Election Commission, comprised of five members appointed by the President for five year terms with the advice and consent of the Senate.  Qualifications and prohibitions for Board members are outlined.  The Board is charged with reviewing Fair Elections financing levels, including the maximum dollar amount of qualified small dollar contributions, the maximum and minimum dollar amount of qualifying contributions, the number and value of qualifying contributions a candidate must obtain to participate, the amount of allocations a participating candidate would receive, and the amount and usage of media vouchers.  The section sets forth the criteria that will guide the Board in its reviews and outlines the reports that the Board must submit to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.  Personnel and compensation are described, and such sums as necessary are authorized for appropriations to support the Board.

The proposed new section 532 of FECA provides directives to the Federal Election Commission for establishing and publishing rules and procedures for administration of the Fair Elections system. 

The proposed new section 533 of FECA establishes penalties for the misuse of Fair Elections money and for expenditures by a participating candidate other than the spending allowed by the Fair Elections system.

Section 103.   Prohibition on Joint Fundraising Committees. 

Section 103 bars the establishment of joint fundraising committees with a political committee other than an authorized committee of the candidate.

Section 104.   Limitation on expenditures by political party committees in elections with participating candidates.

Section 105 requires that aggregate coordinated expenditures by national and state party committees on behalf of participating candidates cannot exceed 10% of the Fair Elections allocation for which the participating candidate is eligible under the new section 522(c) of FECA.   This provision does not alter existing limits under FECA for coordinated expenditures by a party committee.

TITLE II – IMPROVING VOTER INFORMATION

Section 201.    Broadcasts relating to all Senate candidates

This section requires that the lowest unit charge for broadcast advertising shall be guaranteed for federal party committees and candidates.  

Section 202.    Broadcasts rates for participating candidates

This section requires that a participating candidate in a contested election shall be charged 80 percent of the lowest charge described in section 315(b) of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 315(b)) for purchased broadcast time during the 45 days preceding the primary and 60 days preceding the general election.   This section also bars broadcaster preemption of purchased airtime and requires the FEC to conduct broadcaster compliance audits.

Section 203.   FCC to prescribe standardized form for reporting candidate campaign ads.

This section requires the FCC to initiate rulemaking to develop a standardized form to be used by broadcasting stations for recording and reporting information on the purchase of advertising time by or on behalf of a candidate for Federal elective office. 

TITLE III – RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION 

Section 301.    Petition for certiorari.

The section allows the FEC to petition to the U.S. Supreme Court on certiorari.

Section 302.    Filing by Senate candidates with Commission. 

The section requires Senate candidates to file designations, statements, and reports directly with the Commission.

Section 303.    Promoting expedited availability of FEC reports.

The section instructs the Commission to require the filing of reports in electronic form.

TITLE IV –- MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS 

Section 401.   Severability.

The section allows for any section of the legislation to be severed if found unconstitutional without affecting the remainder of the Act.

Section 402.    Effective date.

The Act and the amendments made by the Act would take effect on January 1, 2011.

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