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.
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At less than $6 per citizen per year, this approach could save billions in public funds over the long-term as incumbents no longer feel the pressure to approve wasteful spending programs backed by their contributors.Skip to next paragraph
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We need not start from scratch. First proposed by President Theodore Roosevelt over a century ago, "Fair Elections" programs are at work in eight states and more than a dozen cities, from Maine to Los Angeles.
The documented results include a steady rise in voter turnout, small contributions, electoral competition, and candidates from diverse backgrounds seeking office.
Legislators are being elected without compromising ties to wealthy special interests. Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine are the three states that have Fair Elections for all state offices. And about 75 percent of winning candidates there voluntarily chose to take part in the Fair Elections system, replacing special-interest money with small donations and matching public funds.
Partial "fixes" abound in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's decision this year on Citizens United v. FEC, which allows corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums on political ads.
Some of these measures, such as increased disclosure requirements and limits on foreign influence in campaigns recently introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) of New York and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) of Maryland, are deserving of support. But they do not go far enough.
Better financing = better laws
Only Fair Elections reform can get to the root of the problem by changing the source of campaign cash.
Before Congress can truly meet the challenges of energy and climate change, unemployment, and financial regulation, it must address the perverse incentives that mire each and every one of its members in a perpetual race for private campaign funds.
Bayh and Voinovich, we thank you for your service and for drawing attention to a broken pay-to-play system of funding political campaigns.
In the old-fashioned spirit of bipartisanship, we urge our former colleagues in Congress to come together and take up the fight for citizen-funded elections.
• Warren Rudman is a former US senator from New Hampshire and chair of Americans for Campaign Reform. Timothy E. Wirth is a former senator from Colorado and president of the United Nations Foundation. Both men served together in the US Senate before retiring in 1992.