Last January, Barack Obama was sworn into office after being elected by an overwhelming majority of the country. His historic victory was a mandate for change. With new energy occupying the White House, and a re-invigorated progressive leadership at the helm in Congress, Americans believed that positive change was finally going to rattle the "business as usual" status quo that had plagued Washington D.C. for the past eight years.
Over the last year, however, frustration has given way to anger as voters have witnessed the inability of our lawmakers to make progress on issues like health care reform, financial regulation, and energy policy. This inaction is due to a tidal wave of big money from the health insurance industry, Big Oil, and giant financial institutions who have mobilized to challenge the people's mandate for change. These entrenched special interests have slowed, compromised and blocked important legislation leaving many Americans demoralized and outraged.
I'm one of those people.
And just a few weeks ago, the John Roberts-led, conservative leaning Supreme Court made this situation even worse. In Citizens United v. FEC, a narrow majority of the Roberts Court gave corporations nearly identical rights as you and I to participate in elections -- a radical departure for a Chief Justice who pledged not to legislate from the bench! I have always been a fierce advocate for the First Amendment, but giving corporations unlimited ability to influence our elections is not the "free speech" our Founding Fathers had in mind.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the financial industry has donated $2 billion to Congress over the past 20 years, buying special interests unprecedented access but shutting out hardworking Americans. It is naive to think that this obscene amount of money doesn't heavily influence the policy making process in Washington. The same financiers, whose greed contributed to the downfall of our economy, contribute significantly to candidates expecting a favorable return on their investment. And as our lax regulatory system shows, it's been working.
Now that the Roberts' Court has handed down this perilous decision, Congress must respond with equal force. A plan described by Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Chris Van Hollen last week is a good start, but it doesn't go nearly far enough.
That's why I support the legislation introduced by Senator Durbin known as the Fair Elections Now Act. This proposal would turn the private campaign funding system on its head by empowering vast numbers of small dollar donors and finally allowing candidates to step off the fundraising treadmill. Under Fair Elections, candidates would raise a large number of small contributions from their communities in order to qualify for Fair Elections funding. Candidates are limited to accepting contributions no larger than $100 from anyone. This would enable them to speak their mind and work for the people, not the special interests. Qualified candidates would then receive Fair Elections funding in the primary, and if they win, they would go into their general election with the funding to run a competitive campaign.
This alternative campaign finance system would create a more competitive playing field, allowing more women and candidates of diverse backgrounds to pursue elected office. This system finally gives the power back to the people! Imagine the quality of candidates that would seek office if they no longer had to dial for dollars and make compromises to the network of wealthy interests who support their campaigns. The Fair Elections Now Act would allow Members of Congress to do the job they were elected to do -- represent voters, not special interests.
We can't stand by and let our country be taken over by corporate interests that care more about their bottom line than the public interest. It's time to change the way Washington works. Campaigns funded by small-donor driven public financing can turn Washington D.C. away from "rule by the monied" and towards "rule by the many," -- a concept that speaks to the very core of our democracy. And the only way to start this process is by passing the Fair Elections Now Act...Now!!! Write or call your Congressman today!