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Former Lawmakers Urge Campaign Finance Reform « The Washington Independent

Ask any lawmaker on Capitol Hill about the worst part of his job and the answer will usually be the same: They all claim to hate the hours a week they spend attending fundraisers or dialing for dollars to see them through the next election.

That they’re not doing anything to change the way that elections are funded says a great deal about the influence of money and lobbying in Washington (and it’s worth mentioning that they were all elected under the current financing system, meaning that it worked for them even as they claim to despise it).

Still, some lawmakers have made campaign finance reform a priority, pushing a bill — the Fair Elections Now Act — that would allow congressional candidates to access public funds in exchange for disavowing large contributions from individuals and all contributions from lobbyists. And today they got a boost.

Thirty former lawmakers, from both sides of the aisle, are urging Congress to enact campaign finance reforms ASAP, arguing that the current system “impairs” the ability of lawmakers to tackle the grave and numerous problems facing the country.

“From our collective experience, fundraising is one of the worst parts of serving in public office, and it has only gotten worse since we served,” the lawmakers wrote in an open letter appearing in Roll Call.

The current campaign finance system serves no one well, and serves us all as a nation poorly. The hours spent raising money from narrow interests would be better applied to connecting with voters, building relationships across the aisle, seeking ideas from issue experts, and addressing the needs of the nation.

As it stands, many members are forced into a permanent “campaign” mindset. The currency of America’s capital city has become money, not ideas, and that hurts democracy in a fundamental way.

Among the signers were former Reps. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.) and Pete McCloskey (R-Calif.).

Sponsored by Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) in the Senate, and by Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and John Larson (D-Ct.) in the House, the Fair Elections Now Act aims to attract candidates who otherwise might not have the financial resources to launch a serious campaign for federal office.

Under the bill, candidates wishing to tap public funds would first have to prove viability by raising a minimum amount of cash from in-state donors, who could give no more than $100 each. Candidates meeting that state-specific threshold would then receive a lump sum for the primary election, and could raise additional funds from individual donors, again not to exceed $100. For every $1 raised in-state, the government would chip in $4.

Primary winners would receive another grant for the general election, again with the stipulation that additional donations couldn’t top $100, and again with the enticement of a four-to-one federal match for in-state contributions. The matching funds would stop flowing at a certain point, but candidates could continue to raise unlimited small donations from individuals.

The bill would also prohibit participating candidates from accepting any donations from political action committees, the groups organized by businesses and ideological groups to influence elections.

Still, supporters might not want to hold their breath for passage. Not only does the current political environment require 60 votes for anything at all to move through the Senate, but the recent Supreme Court ruling empowering corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums to influence elections puts even more pressure on incumbents to raise campaign cash. After all, it is an election year.

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