While Barack Obama may be getting all the press lately due to his Presidential bid, our other Democratic Senator, Dick Durbin, deserves positive attention for introducing, jointly with Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), the Senate Fair Elections Now Act. If passed, the Act would provide voluntary public funding for Senate campaigns based on the “Clean Elections” model adopted for state elections in Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Vermont, and a growing number of municipalities. Clean Elections systems provide full public funding, including capped matching funds against any privately financed candidates, to qualified candidates with sufficient grass-roots support who agree to forgo private contributions and abide by spending limits.
Such campaign finance reform promises to do much more to clean up the “culture of corruption” in Congress than the modest ethics reforms Congress passed last year in the wake of the Abramoff & Delay scandals. Clean Elections laws address the underlying, systemic distortion of our political system by monied interests that is inherent in the campaign finance system as it currently exists. The corrosive influence of large political donations undermines the integrity of the “one person, one vote” principle upon which our republic is founded. It amplifies the agenda of the rich and of corporate interests at the expense of the common good, as the lobbying scandals that brought down Abramoff & Delay clearly showed, and a review of much legislation, especially our national energy policy, sadly proves out.
Clean Elections allows campaigns to focus on the issues voters care about, not how much money a given candidate can raise. It frees candidates once elected from being beholden to the interests of those who bankrolled their campaigns so that they may act in the public interest. It allows them to focus while in office on the issues facing the people rather than on the next cycle of fundraising for reelection.
I hope Durbin’s Senate Fair Elections Now Act (and the House equivalent) find speedy passage.