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Economic Collapse Has One Bright Spot: It Highlighted the Need to Change the Way Congressional Elections Are Funded

March 31, 2009

Economic Collapse Has One Bright Spot: It Highlighted the Need to Change the Way Congressional Elections Are Funded

Statement of David Arkush, Director, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

The current economic crisis has made Americans more aware than ever of the pernicious grip that Wall Street has held over the federal government – and how the policies enacted have left average Americans out in the cold. Americans also have seen that large corporate interests – the health care industry, the oil and gas interests, the pharmaceutical lobby and more – wield an unacceptably strong influence over critical policies in many other areas.

Against this backdrop, no one should be surprised that a recent poll showed enormous support for removing special interest money from elections by funding them with public money. In the poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners and The Tarrance Group, 67 percent of those surveyed supported providing qualified candidates a limited amount of public funding if they agree to take no large contributions. Further, 81 percent believed that the way elections are financed should be changed. Support for reform is strong across the political spectrum. By wide margins, Democrats, Republicans, and independents all support freeing our elected officials from the special-interest money chase so that they can spend more time solving the nation’s problems instead.

Today, bipartisan legislation calling for such a change is being introduced. We applaud Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Reps. John Larson (D-Conn.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.) for introducing the “Fair Elections Now Act,” which would establish a voluntary system of public financing of congressional elections. (Get more details.)

A product of two years of legislative deliberation, the bills complete the second part of a two-punch reform drive on Capitol Hill. The first punch was to rein in lobbying abuses; the second is to rein in the corrupting influence of large corporate interests.

Voters have loudly demanded major changes in the way campaigns are financed, calling for an end to a system in which special-interest money overpowers citizen voices. New leadership on Capitol Hill is striving to restore the public’s faith in the federal government. Passing the Fair Elections Now Act is the perfect way to show the electorate that they are, indeed, serious about change.