Rep. John Larson will need more than Hollywood star power to move his clean-elections campaign finance bill through Congress this year. But having a movie star at the kick-off press conference at least ensures a packed room.
Reporters and congressional aides alike crammed into a small Capitol Hill conference room Wednesday morning, where Alec Baldwin made a cameo in support of Larson’s bill.
The measure, called the Fair Elections Now Act, would provide public financing for congressional candidates who raise a minimum level of small individual contributions from donors in their home-state.
Once they qualify, candidates would get a grant for their primary campaigns and another for the general election. They would also be barred from taking contributions from PACs, among other restrictions. The new system would be funded with a levy on companies that get large government contracts.
Larson, D-1st District, said the current pressure to raise piles of campaign cash “can only be described as… the most corrosive system a democracy can have.” He said that lawmakers “really resent” being forced into a constant scramble for money and that their work in Congress suffers as a result.
“Especially in the House, the moment you’re elected, you spend the rest of your time on the phone dialing for dollars, instead of being in the pursuit of the service of your constituency,” Larson said. Lawmakers come to Washington to be in public service, but “they end up in the money chase in order to stay in office, in order to make sure they get their message out.”
Baldwin echoed those complaints and said the bill free lawmakers from the shackles of the system. He said members of Congress could spend more time talking to constituents “instead of jetting off to receptions with millionaires.”
The legislation is not likely to go anywhere in this Congress. Last year, the bill won committee approval but never got a full vote in the House. With Republicans now in the majority, it’s unlikely to even make it out of committee.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who is sponsoring a Senate version of the legislation, suggested it might take a major campaign finance scandal to move the bill. Although he said he hoped it wouldn’t come to that, “major scandal equals major reform,” Durbin said.