Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What about Clean Elections?

In the wake of the Citizens United decision and recent attacks on state level election funding laws, one very necessary reform is not as much in the spotlight: public funding for elections. A little media love came its way this morning with this NPR piece discussing the Federal Fair Elections Now Act.

On the federal level, the Fair Elections Now Act (S. 752 and H.R. 1826) sets up a system by which candidates seek small donations, limited to no more than $100, to receive funding for election primaries and for general election campaigning. House candidates could receive $900,000, plus matching funds if additional small donations are raised. Importantly, donations must be raised within the district (sorry, should be in-state--thanks to the reader who sent the correction!), to demonstrate local support for the candidate. The bill also helps meet the challenge of buying media time, a major expense, by getting a discount on broadcast time and additional funding.

The Fair Elections Now Act was introduced in the Senate by Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (D-PA), and in the House by John Larson (D-CT) and Walter Jones Jr. (R-NC), and currently has 140 House co-sponsors, and ten in the Senate, but co-sponsors have a tendency to melt like soggy waffles when a bill starts to show a dim chance of becoming law (cf HR 676); consequently, if this is an issue you back, you have to let your Congresspeople know you're watching for their active and steady support.

Senate races would be funded by a fee on large government contractors and House races would be funded by ten percent of revenues generated through auction of unused portions of the broadcast spectrum. Based on costs for existing state level clean elections programs, the federal program could cost between $700 and $850 million per year, a small price to pay for legislators that owe their office to their constituents, rather than to big-money contributors.

Such bills have worked for years--with bipartisan support--for statewide and legislative elections in Arizona and Maine, with Connecticut joining in 2008. Judicial and regulation commission elections are funded in New Mexico, some judicial and oversight positions in North Carolina, and governor and lieutenant governor in Vermont. Municipalities using a clean election system include Albuquerque and Portland, OR.

California is the closest to joining this list for some statewide positions, if voters approve a referendum this summer. The Alliance's former San Fernando Valley chapter has been part of this effort from the beginning, and has left AfD to pursue this initiative full-time. New Hampshire is also investigating public funding; Doris "Granny D" Haddock was an active participant in their study commission up to her death this month.

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