Has anyone ever complained to you that the biggest problems with our democracy are, first, that there is not nearly enough corporate money and special interest influence affecting what gets done in Washington, and second, that elected officials don’t spend nearly enough time raising money? No, of course not.
[IMGCAP(1)]Yet with a recent Supreme Court decision, that is exactly what we will get. Law firms and corporations can now literally spend millions of dollars to get any candidate they want elected. This devastating decision reverses 100 years of progress we’ve made to ensure that average Americans have a fair voice in their government. It unleashes a stampede of big businesses spending money to directly affect the results of elections across the country.
In Congress, we will consider many legislative fixes to make sure that your voice does not get drowned out by the flood of corporate money we will see in the next election. The Fair Elections Now Act, bipartisan legislation I have co-authored with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), should be part of the plan. FENA was written well before this Supreme Court decision but has become even more important in the wake of it. It would give all candidates for Congress the option of taking part in a public financing system once they meet certain criteria of viability, taking the corrosive influence of big money out of politics and letting elected officials get back to the real business of governing.
Here’s how the plan would work: Any candidates for Congress who want to be Fair Elections candidates would need to raise a set number of small donations from within their state or district to show their viability. Once they reach that threshold, they would receive a grant based on the average amount spent in winning campaigns in their area. The candidate could continue to raise small-dollar donations and would get a matching grant for each one up to a certain level. This means no more hours spent raising money and no more questions about dubious donations.
It is obvious that the people’s faith in their federal government has been shaken. What better way to show our constituents that they are our priority than by taking the hunt for big money out of our elections and re-energizing the sort of grass-roots, small-donor campaigns that got President Barack Obama elected?
Many states, often called the laboratories of our democracy, have already enacted similar legislation for their local elections. The results are clear — a significant decrease in the influence of special interests on legislation, and candidates spend more time talking to voters and learning about their priorities.
Anyone who thinks that money does not influence the outcome of legislation here in Washington, D.C., is not facing reality. The health care industry and its lobbyists have spent on average $1.4 million per day lobbying Congress.
Big banks, oil companies, insurance companies and credit card companies can now spend as much money as they want to affect the election of your local Member of Congress — defeating a candidate who doesn’t promise to vote the way they want and installing a candidate who will.
Yet some on the other side of the aisle have tried to argue that this is an issue of free speech. They are making it painfully clear whose free speech they are trying to protect — big corporations. With the Fair Elections Now Act we can protect your speech and your say on what happens in Washington.
Rep. John Larson (Conn.) is House Democratic Caucus chairman.