Politicians in Congress should serve you, not rich contributors
'Fair Elections' reform would allow public servants like those in Congress to focus on policy, not fundraising.
Concord, N.H.; and Washington
Call us old-fashioned sentimentalists.Skip to next paragraph
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We used to think of the United States Senate as a place where sober-minded men and women with a hankering for public service came together to listen to different points of view and forge common solutions to the nation's tough problems.
The fact that each of us represented a different political party did not diminish our mutual respect and readiness to work together. On the campaign trail, we tried to help our parties win, but in the Congress, we and many others sought to reach bipartisan legislative outcomes in the national interest.
But nowadays in Washington, the bridge-builders are heading for the hills.
The recent announcement by Sen. Evan Bayh (D) of Indiana that he would leave the Senate in 2010 was just the latest in a stream of moderate senators who are too fed up to seek another term. His fellow Midwesterner, Sen. George Voinovich (R) of Ohio, paved the way a year ago. Unless the ways of Washington change, we doubt these two senators will be the last to quit.
Big money's corrosive effect
If there's one reason for leaving that both Senators Voinovich and Bayh – and ourselves in our time – share in common, it's money. Congress is stuck in the mud of strident partisanship, excessive ideology, never-ending campaigns, and – at the heart of it all – a corrosive system of private campaign funding and the constant fundraising it demands.
We predict the recent Supreme Court ruling to permit unlimited corporate and union spending on campaign ads will only make matters worse.
For years, big money has quietly undermined the integrity of our representative government.
Members of Congress now report spending a third of their time or more raising money for their next campaign, most of it coming from out-of-state interests instead of their own constituents.
Wealthy contributors, in turn, expect – and too often receive – a return on their investment in the form of earmarks and legislative favors.
And while we do not believe that most members of Congress are corrupt, few can deny that the appearance of corruption has dramatically undermined the public's trust in government.
To help bring statesmanship back to Washington, it's time we put an end to the race for campaign cash and the countless compromises it demands.
The best way to fundamentally change the dysfunctional dynamic in Washington is to restore political purchasing power to the American people by incentivizing broad-based small donations from ordinary constituents through matching federal funds.
By providing qualified candidates a way out of the chase for big special- interest money, such a program would make citizens the true stakeholders in our government.
The Fair Elections Now Act
The good news is that a bipartisan proposal to do just that is gaining momentum in Washington. The "Fair Elections Now Act" has gained the support of at least 170 members of Congress. Under such reform, candidates who reach a reasonable threshold of small constituent donations would qualify for federal matching funds to run competitive campaigns, regardless of wealth and connections.