Durbin, Specter, Larson, Jones Introduce Bills to Reform Financing of Congressional Elections

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-CT) and Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC) introduced bipartisan legislation today to reform the way Congressional elections are financed. The Fair Elections Now Act would allow qualified, legitimate candidates to receive grants and matching funds to run competitive campaigns instead of relying on contributions from lobbyists and other special interests.


“Americans would be shocked if they knew how much time Members of Congress and candidates seeking office must spend dialing for dollars and attending fundraisers. Without a fundamental reform of the way we finance campaigns, we cannot bring real reform to Capitol Hill,” Durbin said. “Our bipartisan bill will give candidates the opportunity to focus on dealing with our nation’s problems and not 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 spending to the amounts raised from small dollar donors plus matching contributions from the Fair Elections Fund.


“I believe this legislation will be a significant step in improving public confidence in the electoral process,” said Specter. “I am pleased to join Senator Durbin on the Fair Elections Now Act and look forward to working with my colleagues to accomplish this much-needed reform.”


Larson said, “States across the country, including my home state of Connecticut, have acted as laboratories for reforms like the Fair Elections Now Act. States have shown overwhelming success in taking the influence of big donors out of their legislative process and allowing lawmakers to get back to the people’s business rather than spending their time dialing for cash. Now it is time to bring this kind of real change to Washington. President Obama showed us all how small donations and average Americans can make a difference in an election. With the Fair Elections Now Act we can bring that sort of grassroots enthusiasm and involvement to our Congressional races.”


“It’s time to return government to the people,” Congressman Walter Jones said. “And the first step is for Congress to debate legislation like the Fair Elections Now Act, which would help ensure that the average citizen has a voice.”


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 in order to 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 4:1 match for contributions of $100 or less from an individual; no individual may give more than $100; that match will stop after a certain spending level is reached, but candidates may continue to raise donations of up to $100 per individual without a match.


• There is no overall spending limit. Candidates may continue to raise funds after they have reached the cap on their match.


• A new commission will administer the program, including the disbursal of funds and collection of reports.


• Coordinated expenditures with party organizations will be permitted up to an amount equal to a small percentage of the public grant.


• 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).


• Participating candidates could take only individual contributions of $100 or less for their leadership PACs.


• The Fair Elections fund will be fully financed and revenue neutral.


The Fair Elections Now Act is supported by a wide range of organizations, including: AFSCME; Americans for Campaign Reform; Brennan Center for Justice; Campaign for America’s Future; Campus Progress; Change Congress; Chesapeake Climate Action Network; Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington; Common Cause; Democracy 21; Democracy Matters; Friends of the Earth; Greenpeace; Hip Hop Caucus; League of Conservation Voters; League of Young Voters; Mexican American Legal; Defense and Education Fund; MoveOn.org; NAACP; National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA; Progressive Future; Public Campaign; Public Citizen; Rock the Vote; SEIU; Sierra Club; US Action; U.S. PIRG; and the William C. Velasquez Institute.