Durbin Holds Hearing on Fair Elections Now Act

Hearing Discusses Campaign Reform in a Post-Citizens United World

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) chaired a hearing today on his Fair Elections Now Act, a bill that will dramatically change the way we finance Congressional elections. Under the new law, qualified, legitimate candidates will receive grants, matching funds, and television vouchers to run competitive campaigns based on small dollar donors, not special interest money from lobbyists and corporations. Today’s hearing was held before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights of which Durbin is the Chairman.

“Some have argued that our government of, by, and for the people has morphed into one that is bought and paid for by special interests,” Durbin said. “Let me be clear:  the overwhelming majority of people serving in American politics are good, honest people who are guided by the best of intentions. The problem is that we are stuck in a terrible, corrupting system. That system has been made worse by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. Without a fundamental reform of the way we finance campaigns, we cannot bring real reform to Capitol Hill. The Fair Elections Now Act will give candidates the opportunity to focus on dealing with our nation’s problems, not on chasing after campaign cash.”

The Fair Elections Now Act would create a voluntary system that gives congressional candidates the option to stop raising huge sums of money, giving them more time to work on the people’s business. Candidates who participate in the Fair Elections process would agree to limit their campaign fundraising to the amounts raised from small dollar donors plus matching contributions from the Fair Elections Fund. The Fair Elections system will allow Congressional candidates to run competitive campaigns in the face of the tidal wave of special interest expenditures unleashed by Citizens United.

Three witnesses testified at today’s hearing: Former Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY); Monica Youn, Senior Counsel for the Democracy Program at New York University School of Law; and Cleta Mitchell, a Partner at Foley & Lardner. Copies of their testimony and Senator Durbin’s opening statement are attached. A webcast of today’s hearing can be found here.

How the Fair Elections Bill Works:

  • It’s voluntary – no candidate for Congress is compelled to use this system.
  • Candidates must raise a minimum level of small individual contributions from people in their state, in order to demonstrate viability and qualify for the program.
  • Once they qualify, candidates will abide by various restrictions and disclosure requirements.
  • Qualified candidates will receive an up-front grant for their primary campaigns, and if nominated, another grant for their general election campaign.
  • Candidates will also receive a 5:1 match for contributions of $100 or less from an individual; no individual may give more than $100 per election; that match will stop after a certain level is reached, but candidates may continue to raise donations of up to $100 per individual without a match.
  • A new commission will administer the program, including the disbursal of funds and collection of reports.
  • There is no overall spending limit. Candidates may continue to raise funds after they have reached the cap on their match.
  • Participating candidates could take only individual contributions of $100 or less for their leadership PACs.
  • No contributions, fundraising, or bundling will be allowed from PACs.
  • There will be special provisions for candidates in uncontested races (at significantly lower funding levels).
  • Unlimited coordinated expenditures with party organizations are permitted, as long as they are made using funds from individual donations of $500 or less per individual, per election cycle.
  • The Fair Elections Fund will be funded by a 0.5% fee on federal contractors that earn $10 million or more per year from federal government contracts.  The fee will be capped at $500,000 per contractor per year.
  • The Fund fully is financed and revenue neutral.