“Fair Elections Now Act” introduced in US Congress

A bill called the Fair Elections Now Act, HR 1826,  has been introduced to Congress, and is being referred to the Committee on House Administration, along with the “Committees on Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means,” according to the bill. It is an attempt at nationwide campaign finance reform and would be a voluntary system that a candidate would have to qualify for to get funding.

According to Common Cause, a group that has pushed for this bill and has a member co-sponsoring it, if passed a system would be established that would give out four times the amount of money that a qualified candidate has received in “small dollar contributions.”  They would also receive a $100,000 voucher for advertising.  A small dollar contribution, according to the act, is $100 or less, but that would be subject to change.  To qualify, a candidate would need to raise a certain amount of money from donors in their own state, all in small dollar contributions.  Common Cause puts requirements for House candidates at $50,000 and 1,500 donors, but it would differ from state to state for Senate candidates.

There is also apparently a requirement for participating in debates, which could complicate matters for third party candidates:

‘‘SEC. 514. DEBATE REQUIREMENT.
‘‘A candidate for the office of Representative in, or Delegate or Resident Commissioner to, the Congress meets the requirements of this section if the candidate participates in at least—

‘‘(1) 1 public debate before the primary election with other participating candidates and other willing candidates from the same party and seeking the same nomination as such candidate; and

‘‘(2) 2 public debates before the general election with other participating candidates and other willing candidates seeking the same office as such candidate.

The Fair Elections Now Act would also limit Leadership PACs – organizations that politicians run in order to contribute to other candidates – to contributing $100 to a participating campaign, and they would limit the Leadership PAC of a participating candidate to $100 contributions to others.

The bill would also establish an oversight board whose members would be appointed by the president.  This board would oversee the rules and regulations created by the law, as well as fines and penalties and general administrative duties.  The board would have the ability to change the dollar amounts, which means they could change how much money is handed out and the requirements for qualification.

It would take effect January 1, 2011 if passed.  It was introduced Tuesday and has yet to make it out of committee.  Last year President Obama co-sponsored similar legislation in the Senate, and the current co-sponsors are counting on Obama’s support.  The co-sponsors are:

Mr. LARSON of Connecticut (for himself, Mr. NADLER of New York, Ms. PINGREE of Maine, Mr. JONES, Mr. PLATTS, Mr. COOPER, Mr. HOLT, Mr. COHEN, Mr. HEINRICH, Mr. POLIS of Colorado, Ms. EDWARDS of Maryland, Mr. CAPUANO, and Mr. DOYLE)

Please feel free to read the bill and read additional articles about it.  If you see anything that’s wrong in this article or anything that I missed, please let me know in the comments.

8 thoughts on ““Fair Elections Now Act” introduced in US Congress

  1. Ross Levin Post author

    Darryl W. Perry sent in this commentary on the Act:

    On March 31 HR1286 (The “Fair Elections Now Act”) was introduced into the
    House of Representatives “To reform the financing of House elections, and
    for other purposes”. The “Findings” of the bill claim that current
    “financing” procedures for Congressional elections “undermine democracy by
    campaign contributions from private sources ”. Which on the surface makes
    some sense, until one remembers that the USA in NOT A DEMOCRACY, this
    country is a REPUBLIC – meaning “ruled by law”, not ruled by majority.
    But I digress. The Bill goes on to state issues such as; candidates being
    forced to accept “large contributions” from private interest, allowing
    private interests to have “unfair influence” in the election process and
    “disadvantaging challengers and discouraging competitive elections ” among
    other reasons. I would suggest that unfair ballot access and intentionally
    gerrymandered Congressional Districts have as much, if not MORE, to do
    with “discouraging competitive elections” than the current campaign
    finance laws.
    Essentially, this bill would extend “public financing”, similar to what is
    (optionally) used in Presidential elections, to Congressional candidates.
    Candidates would be required to receive 1,500 “small dollar contributions”
    ($5-$100) totaling $50,000 (average contribution of $33.34).
    The only really “good” section of the Bill is section 514 which requires
    “1 public debate before the primary election with other participating
    candidates and other willing candidates from the same party and seeking
    the same nomination as such candidate; and 2 public debates before the
    general election with other participating candidates and other willing
    candidates seeking the same office as such candidate. ”
    The Bill goes on to describe how a candidate will be allowed to spend
    any“public financing” that is accepted, including “a voucher program for
    the purchase of airtime on broadcasting stations for political
    advertisements ”. However, the candidate may “exchange vouchers with a
    political party ” & “a political party may use vouchers only to purchase
    broadcast airtime for political advertisements for generic party
    advertising ”.
    The Bill goes on to describe filing requirements and other forms of
    “oversight and compliance”. However, I find it interesting that the Bill
    never addresses ballot access for “independent” or “other” party
    candidates, yet “Primaries” were addressed. Also not addressed is
    establishment of a non-partisan/independent commission for drawing
    Congressional districts, which could and most likely would eliminate
    gerrymandered districts and would do more to ensure fair and competitive
    elections than using public financing would.
    I fail to see how HR1286 would create “fair elections” if the two main
    obstacles to fair elections aren’t addressed. Even with optional public
    financing, this bill wouldn’t create a “fair election”, as a candidate
    could simply opt-out of accepting the public funding and continue to
    accept large contributions. Also interesting is the “Effective Date” – set
    at January 2011, which would give most of the incumbents one more election
    to continue growing their campaign funding for re-election. This Bill
    would only give the “illusion” of fair and competitive elections.

    Sincerely,
    Darryl W. Perry
    http://dwp2016.org
    http://ALStatesmen.org
    http://BostonTea.us

  2. dsimon

    Perry’s objections are worth noting. But the question is not whether the law creates a perfect system. The question is whether it creates a better system, and whether it’s worth the cost. The answer to both questions are yes.

    Of course gerrymandering and ballot access are problems. But the endless money chase is also a problem. Why not address it?

    As for opting out, not allowing it would violate the First Amendment. Also, if there’s enough money in the pot, candidates won’t opt out; they’ll trade the time and energy they’d have to put into fundraising for the public money. The states that have public campaign financing (Maine, Arizona, Connecticut) all have opt-out provisions but still have high participation rates.

    And I have no problem with having an effective date of 2011. Give them time to get ready for the new system. And change in 2011 is better than the same system in 2011.

  3. paulie

    The question is whether it creates a better system, and whether it’s worth the cost. The answer to both questions are yes.

    I tend to think it is no.

  4. mdh

    This would do very little in terms of making things better. I also think it would not make things much worse.

    What it would do is what government does best – create yet another bureaucracy. 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *