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The Fair Elections Now Act: A Declaration of Independence for Congress

April 12, 2011

The Fair Elections Now Act: A Declaration of Independence for Congress

Statement of Craig Holman, Government Affairs Lobbyist, Public Citizen

Note: A hearing on the Fair Elections Now Act is being held at 10 a.m. today before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. Read the full statement Public Citizen submitted.

Our elections are far too important to leave to auctioneers and well-financed special interests.

That is why Congress should pass the Fair Elections Now Act (S. 750 and H.R. 1404), which offers a new system for financing campaigns that relies on public funds matching small private donations. Doing so not only would help improve the openness, honesty and accountability of government, but also would free public officials to respond to the interests of voters rather than deep-pocketed donors.

If we want to protect the environment, design a better health care system and improve our energy policy, we need a political system that encourages lawmakers to listen more to voters than to oil and gas companies, pharmaceutical giants and other industries.

Several states and localities have been operating under comprehensive public financing systems for years. These systems work. They draw rave reviews from lawmakers while producing more diverse fields of candidates. Even better, lawmakers who run under the systems spend significantly less time raising money than those who do not, giving them more time to do the work of the people. Consider that in 1976, successful U.S. Senate candidates spent an average of $2.3 million in 2010 dollars. In 2010, the average Senate winner spent an astonishing $7 million. It is estimated that senators spend a third of their time fundraising. That’s time that isn’t being spent on policymaking.

And consider this: A study of contributions to gubernatorial candidates in Arizona found that privately funded candidates in the 1998 and 2002 election cycles received more than 70 percent of their campaign contributions from people living in areas with per capita incomes of $40,000 or more. In contrast, following adoption of public financing in Arizona, candidates who opted into the state’s public funding system received up to 68 percent of their qualifying and seed contributions from people living in zip codes with per capita incomes below $40,000.

The Fair Elections Now Act envisions a system that is entirely voluntary for candidates and imposes no new restrictions on the campaign fundraising or spending of those who do not participate. But it could transform elections into true contests of ideas and merit, rather than fundraising prowess.

For these reasons, Public Citizen enthusiastically rallies in support of the Fair Elections Now Act and applauds the campaign to clean up elections by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) and all their colleagues who have co-sponsored this important legislation.

Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.