The corrosive effects of campaign fundraising

I’ve never heard anyone complain that the biggest problems with our democracy is that elected official don’t spend enough time raising money and that there aren’t enough special interests influencing what gets done in Washington.

The public has seen firsthand the impact corporate money has on important issues and knows better. Just look at the battle over health care reform. The health care industry and its lobbyists spent on average $1.4 million per day lobbying Congress to block the passage of health care reform and turn the discussion from a civil conversation on the policy into a bloody fight that divided our nation and at its extremes led to violent threats.

With the recent Supreme Court decision to open the flood gates of corporate donations on our campaigns, this problem will only get worse.
 Our country and our community have too many important issues to tackle right now to turn the reins of power over to corporate interests. It is time to pass a Fair Elections program, like the one I’ve introduced, that will take the hunt for big money out of the Congressional elections and put the focus back on the people and issues that matter most.

No member of Congress, Republican or Democrat, came to Washington to spend their time raising money. We all came here to represent our constituents and make progress on the issues that matter most to them. Yet fundraising is becoming more of a burden for elected officials as the cost of running a campaign and the expectations for fundraising from members of either party’s leadership grow and grow. Neither side can unilaterally disarm without risking their party’s prospects in the next election. Yet, something obviously needs to be done to remove the corrosive effect of fundraising and contributions on politics.

I introduced the Fair Elections Now Act to put a stop to special interests running the show in Washington. Here’s how it would work: Any candidate for Congress who wants to be a Fair Elections candidate would need to raise a set number of small donations from within their state or district to show they are a serious and viable candidate. Once they reach that target, they would receive a grant based on the average amount spent in winning campaigns in their area. The candidate could continue to raise small dollar donations and would get a matching grant for each one up to a certain maximum amount.

States across the country have experimented with similar systems for their local elections. In states, like Connecticut and Maine, they’ve been able to make a real difference in the laws they pass and the way campaigns are run. There are no more hours spent locked in a room dialing for dollars and no more questions about the influence of outside donors on important legislation. I’ve been able to take the lessons from many of these state efforts and apply them to a system for national elections that would bring real change to Washington.

People’s faith in their government has been shaken. The American people are no longer convinced that their government is working for them. With the Fair Elections Now Act we are re-energizing the grass roots, small donor campaigns that put the American people, in charge of their government and showing special interests the door.

John B. Larson represents Connecticut’s 1st Congressional District and serves as the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

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