The cost of a congressional campaign, as well as candidates' need to raise large amount of money from special interests, has spiraled out of control. In the last election, the cost of the top ten competitive Senate races averaged $34 million per campaign - double what it was just four years ago.
One direct result of this race for campaign money is the perception by voters that candidates are too busy talking to Political Action Committees (PACs) or special interests to listen to their constituents. To address this very real problem, Senator Richard Durbin (IL) and Congressman John Larson (CT) have introduced in the House and Senate the "Fair Elections Now Act" (S. 752 / H.R. 1826). These bills, which deal with the financing of campaigns for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, would allow qualified candidates to receive campaign financing from a public fund instead of from lobbyists and other special interests.
This legislation, which is based on working models in Maine and Arizona, would create a voluntary system that gives candidates the option to stop attending fundraisers and dialing their "friends" for donations without risking a loss to a well-funded opponent. For those who choose to participate, fundraising would be limited to "seed money" in amounts of no more than $100 per person to pay for campaign start-up costs. Participating candidates would also be required to show that they are serious contenders by raising qualifying contributions of $5 each from a minimum number of state residents, based on the population of the state.
Once they are able to prove their viability, candidates will then begin to receive money from the "Fair Election Fund." The amount of money each candidate would receive would be based on the population of the state. Candidates would also receive vouchers for a discount on television and radio time.
If enacted, the Fair Elections Now Act would restore the confidence of the voters that their federally elected officials were responsive to them. It would also allow candidates to spend less time talking to special interests and more time listening to their potential constituents.
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