There is a scar on the constitution that is deep and growing. That scar is bleeding money and the bigger the wound gets the more the money flows out. Our society is fundamentally rooted in the concept of representational government, but the simple reality of current election financing ensures that those being represented are the wealthy and powerful, excluding the vast majority of Americans from a seat at the table. What is needed to stitch the wounds of the constitution is a medical kit complete with the surgical tools that will remove the abscess of 'government to the highest bidder'. The Fair Elections Now Act, which is currently under consideration in the Senate, will help to restore a sense of balance and propriety to an election process that has been sold out to the private interests of a privileged minority of the electorate.
In March 2007, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) introduced the Fair Elections Now Act (S. 1285), legislation that would bring full public financing of elections to the Senate. According to the website, Fair Elections Now, this legislation is modeled on the successful public financing systems in place in seven states and two cities. Under these programs, candidates who give up all private donations receive full public funding for their campaigns once they reach a threshold amount in small contributions, and when Fair Elections candidates are outspent by their privately financed opponents or attacked by independent expenditures, they receive additional funds to maintain a level playing field.
The need for fair elections has never been greater. This act would help to build confidence in a process which has been losing public confidence in recent years by allowing qualified candidates to receive public financing instead of receiving money from lobbyists. Americans growing distrust of Washington politics is in large part due to the influence of special interests on the decision making process. The Fair Elections Now Act would provide a voluntary alternative for candidates to free them from a system of campaign fundraising that forces candidates to pay more attention to country club fundraisers and corporate lobbyists than any other group. This has skewed the process of representation in Washington DC and undermined public confidence in our elected leaders.
By providing a voluntary system for candidates to opt out of the dirty money rat race, the Fair Elections Act will ensure that public dollars go to work for ordinary, everyday Americans. Because the process is voluntary, those candidates who are addicted to private, big money dollars can continue to feed their never ending appetite without pushing other candidates out of the running. Those who choose to participate would qualify by showing they can raise small contributions from a set number of state residents based on the population of the state. Once they have demonstrated their viability as a candidate they would be eligible for Fair Elections funds. During the course of the campaign season candidates would receive higher funding if non-participating opponents receive funds in excess of the allocations provided by the Fair Election system. Participants would also receive vouchers for purchasing airtime and would receive a 20 percent discount below the lowest unit cost on all advertising purchased near the end of the primary and during the general election campaign.
The Fair Elections Act is an idea whose time has come. With Senate candidates needing to earn an average of $13,000 a day from the day they are elected until the day of the next election, six years later, it is no surprise that a majority of those in the Senate today are millionaires. You practically have to be a millionaire in today's political climate in order to get to Washington DC. Is it no surprise that at a time when hundreds of thousands of Americans are risking foreclosure and homelessness, politicians seem to be more concerned with bailing out Wall Street investment firms with taxpayer dollars? It is time to protect our constitution from the undue influence of a wealthy minority who have compromised and weakened our democratic process. It is time to restore dignity and trust to the Congress by ensuring that the most qualified candidates are elected to public office rather than those with the most private money. We can heal the scars which have been created by decades of abuse and restore confidence and fair play to our representative government. Together we can renew the sense that our constitution is of the people, by the people and for the people.