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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, February 05, 2014

 
An interesting campaign finance reform alternative

by David Atkins

Since the Supreme Court has illogically and immorally decided that there is no logical separation between money and speech, most legislative efforts at campaign finance reform that don't involve Constitutional amendment are moot. In fact, campaign finance law tends to be perversely counterproductive at this point, allowing the wealthiest donors and PACs nearly free reign, but setting up myriad obstacles for smaller grassroots groups. It might even be more progressive given the current situation to throw all the campaign finance laws out and let it be a total free-for-all.

That said, there's a new effort by Democrats in the House that might make things a little better:

House Democrats on Wednesday unveiled a new public-financing bill that they hope will help curb the influence of K Street lobbyists and free-spending megadonors in congressional elections.

Introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and backed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the bill would create a voluntary system of publicly financed House elections. The idea is to encourage candidates to raise more money from more people rather than relying on big donors.

Donations of up to $150 to congressional candidates would be matched at a rate of 6 to 1 — meaning a $50 check would turn into a $350 check. If candidates agreed to take only small donations, the match would increase to 9 to 1. Candidates who are able to raise more than $50,000 in small donations in the final 60 days of the election would be eligible for even more resources.

“If you create a system that makes the small donors the linchpin of the system in terms of how members of Congress directly raise the funds for their campaigns, then it gives everyday citizens much more of a role — a leveraging role — in the funding of those campaigns,” Sarbanes said in an interview.

Congress put into place voluntary public financing for presidential elections in 1976, but no such system has ever existed for congressional campaigns.
The biggest, most competitive races would still likely ignore it. But most Congressional elections aren't those races, and a voluntary public finance system might serve to reduce some of the corrupting pressures. Pending a Constitutional amendment it may well be the best we can do at this point.


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