1) What are Fair Elections?
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.
13) What groups are supporting the Fair Elections Now Act?
The following groups support the Fair Elections Now Act: