One year ago, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Reps. John Larson (D-Conn.) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.) introduced the Fair Elections Now Act, legislation aimed at ending Congress' reliance on special interest campaign cash. After an election cycle that saw fundraising records smashed time and again, the bill had never been more necessary.
A year later, things have changed. What people didn't like about the political money system before has gotten worse. Big banks and Wall Street executives are using millions of dollars in lobbying and campaign contributions to block reforms to a system that let them wreck our economy. Health insurers succeeded in watering-down important, cost-saving provisions in the health care bill. Progress on climate change seems stalled. And just a few months ago, the Supreme Court, in Citizens United v. FEC, gave the green light for corporations to spend even more money to influence our elections.
Congress needs to act -- and boldly. Faced with an increased threat of corporate interference in elections, the Fair Elections Now Act (S. 752, H.R. 1826) would allow candidates to rely solely on their grassroots base to fund their campaigns -- not entrenched Washington lobbyists or wealthy financiers. With Fair Elections, candidates can run for office on a mix of limited Fair Elections funds and a 4-to-1 match of donations of $100 or less, instead of spending all their time dialing for dollars or attending high-priced fundraisers.
But here's good news about what has changed in Washington. A year after its introduction, support for the legislation has reach a new high in Washington. A bipartisan and cross-caucus group of more than 140 U.S. House members have co-sponsored the legislation, including a majority of the Democratic majority in the House and support is expanding in the Senate. This ideologically diverse coalition -- Republicans, Democrats, Blue Dogs, and Progressives--are all tired of the inordinate amount of time spent raising money and the damage the process does to good legislation.
With our nation facing critical problems -- an economy still in distress, an uncertain energy future, and an unregulated Wall Street -- we should not wait one minute longer to end the debilitating campaign money chase. This bill would let our elected officials focus on these important issues without regard to where their next campaign check comes from and what paybacks might be expected.
Recent news reports have declared that responding to the Supreme Court decision is on Congress' list of priorities this year. While the original response announced by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) is a good start, any effective response must include the Fair Elections Now Act.
The modern one-year anniversary gift is a clock. And with special interest cash flooding campaign coffers to buy our elections, that clock is ticking. It's time to fix our broken system.
Follow Nick Nyhart on Twitter: www.twitter.com/publicampaign