I was excited to find an email from the Public Campaign Action Fund in my inbox this afternoon. It contained the 2008 Voters First Pledge -- a promise to support a system of public financing for federal elections -- like the one I'm a candidate in now.
Two years ago, an email just like this was coming from me when, as president of Common Cause, I urged candidates to sign on to that pledge, which we had created with a number of other reform organizations. Digging back into my "sent mail" folder, I found one of those emails:
Voters are weary of pay-to-play politics and public trust of Congress is low. We know Americans support making elections fair, enhancing accountability and protecting voters' right to know. But many candidates have not committed to the strong reform our democracy needs. Voters deserve to know where the candidates stand before they cast a ballot on November 7.
Like other candidates running for federal office, I have to spend far too much time on the telephone raising money. I can't speak for the others, but I know I'd rather spend that time talking to the people of Maine about the very real and very serious challenges we face. As the organizers of the pledge campaign say, "We recognize that candidates must raise money to successfully get a message out to voters. Our emphasis is to build support for changing the rules of the game for future elections."
Maine's a leader in public financing of state campaigns. It's great that my daughter, Hannah Pingree, has been able to run for the Maine Legislature using Clean Elections and that the system here in Maine has proven effective over several election cycles with 84% of current lawmakers using the system. I supported the passage of the Clean Election Act and, as a legislator, I contributed my own stories and experiences as evidence for the defense of the law when opponents challenged the Act in court.
After leaving the legislature, during my time as the national president of Common Cause, I championed new public financing laws in several states, including Connecticut, California, Maryland, and New Mexico. During that time, I helped lead the campaigns for reform -- traveling to all of those states, testifying, and lobbying. The role we played in Connecticut -- the first state in the nation to pass this law in a legislature (not via referendum) -- was critical. We worked through a variety of avenues from designing the campaign, raising the funds to support it, and spending many hours meeting with individual legislators.
It's clear that public financing at the federal level is long overdue. At Common Cause I worked to push for federal financing, meeting with Senator Dick Durbin and describing the stories collected from our successes in Maine. Those stories helped convince him to be the prime sponsor of the bill we helped craft based largely on the Maine plan -- called the Fair Elections Now Act. Recently, I met with Rep. John Larson of CT, and we discussed the bill he is introducing in the House that is modeled on the Maine law. I hope that it will be one of the first bills I go to work on if I am fortunate enough to be elected to Congress.
Changing how we finance campaigns in this country may do more to restore our democracy than any other reform, and it has my full commitment, which is why I've already signed and sent back the Voters First Pledge for 2008.
Here's the pledge:
If elected, I pledge to make elections fair by supporting legislation to create a system of public financing for qualified candidates who agree to strict spending limits and to take only small donations from individuals.
Do us all a favor and get the candidate in your district to sign on to this pledge too -- I want to be joined by a lot of other supporters in 2009, so we can make this the first vote we take in the new Congress.