What do being 37 weeks pregnant and Sen. Richard Durbin's (D-IL) and Arlen Specter's (R-PA) bold move this week in introducing legislation, the Fair Elections Now Act, to bring public financing to congressional elections have in common?
Ok, the impending birth of a bill may not be quite as miraculous and awe inspiring as that of a human baby. At least not from the perspective of this anxious (and oh-so-ready) mother-soon-to-be.
That said, Sen. Durbin's decision to take on the money culture of Washington, DC, to do something positive to make elections about voters instead of big money donors requires courage, a whole lot of nurturing, and a leap of faith in the future. All these are important elements in deciding to become a parent.
And as a parent, the goals of a fair, accountable elections system that's responsive to ordinary folks-well that's the kind of future I want for our son, Leo, and our baby-to-be. I'm sick of elections that are fueled on big contributions from wealthy donors and special interests who lobby against policies we need so badly in our country: health care for all; support for working families, safe food and clean air and water.
Sen. Durbin's Fair Elections Now Act is based on similar successful "Clean Elections" programs in Arizona and Maine, which provide full public funding to state candidates to run competitive campaigns if they collect a set number of small-typically $5-contributions from constituents and agree to take no more private funding and to abide by strict spending limits. Other states and cities that have such laws for some or all state offices include Connecticut; New Jersey; North Carolina, New Mexico; Vermont; Portland, Oregon, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The 2006 elections showed that the systems that are up and running-in Arizona, Maine, North Carolina, and Portland, Oregon-are popular and working well. In total, more than 200 Clean Elections candidates won state offices in the elections. These new office holders include Democrats and Republicans, incumbents and challengers, women, and a diverse reflection of races and ethnicities.
Clean Elections doesn't just help candidates run for office without being dependent on wealthy donors. It also gives people like Maine's Rep. Deborah Simpson (D), who, when she first ran for Maine's legislature, was a single mom, waitress, and part-time college student who was active in her community, a way run a competitive campaign-and a fair chance at winning.
Since she's been in office, Simpson has used her seat on Maine's Judiciary Committee to champion issues that affect people in their every day lives. For example, having been a victim of domestic violence herself, Simpson worked this to pass legislation that helps other victims. She has also worked on legislation that would help people convicted of a crime to get a new trial based on DNA evidence, a bill that would allow the state to ask cellular telephone providers for the addresses of parents who haven't paid child support, and another that would speed up background checks for parents hoping to adopt a child. She believes that a big reason why she is able to concentrate on such issues is that she isn't looking over her shoulder all the time, wondering what her campaign donors want her to do.
In my day job at Public Campaign I've worked for nearly a decade to bring the kind of public financing that's contained in Sen. Durbin's bill across America. It's extremely gratifying to see the senator take this important step this week. And as a mother about to have a new baby, it makes me hopeful that by the time my children are old enough to vote, their vote will count as much as any wealthy donor's. Make your voice heard on this important legislation by signing Public Campaign's petition, which you can find here.