Fair Elections Now Act Receives Hearing In Senate

In the triumph of tax cuts for corporations, trust fund babies and billionaires in December, in the budget cuts of this month, and in new budget battles to come, we’re seeing the results of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, in which a slim majority of justices ruled that corporations and other organizations have an equal constitutional right as individual American citizens to fund election-related communications. Suddenly, congressional politics has become heavily weighted in favor of corporate economic interests, to the detriment of the economic needs of working Americans.

Monica Youn of the Brennan Center for Justice notes, “In the last federal election cycle, more spending than ever was made by outside organizations that are wholly unaccountable to voters—indeed, such organizations routinely fail to publicly disclose the names of the corporations and wealthy individuals who are bankrolling their campaigns. This influx of secret money poses major risks of corruption, since such independent spending has been used as a quid pro quo for favorable political treatment for large spenders.”

This morning, a hearing of the Senate Judiciary committee considered legislation that attempts to counterbalance the Citizens United decision. The hearing, entitled The Fair Elections Now Act: A Comprehensive Response to Citizens United, did not propose undoing the Citizens United decision with ordinary legislation or a constitutional amendment. As Cleta Mitchell, President of the Republican National Lawyers Association, explained, “Citizens United has nothing to do with contributions to candidates or how they finance their campaigns. In fact, the Court in the decision specifically stated that none of the provisions of federal law related to contributions were disturbed by the decision. The ruling applies solely to political expenditures by corporations (and labor unions) that are made independently of campaigns, candidates and political parties.”

Instead of independent expenditures, this hearing considered the worth of the Fair Elections Now Act, which would create a voluntary system for public funding of congressional elections. The idea of the legislation is to provide public support for candidates who rely on small donations, rather than large donations from wealthy individuals and political action committees.

The committee invited former Senator, Republican Alan Simpson, to testify. Although the current laissez-faire campaign finance system benefits the Republican Party, Simpson advised the committee:

“Consider the conflicting incentives in our electoral system today that drive the public’s perception of corruption. On the demand side, you as Senators require millions of dollars to win and keep your seats – over $9 million, on average, in 2010. Unless you have a fortune of your own, you must turn to private citizens and groups for campaign contributions. All too often, those with the means and incentive to contribute large amounts do not represent the needs or interests of your constituents back home. In fact, just one quarter of one percent of the American people contributed to political campaigns in 2010, most of them representing organized lobbies with a vested tax and spending interest before the federal government. Lobbyists and other contributors based in Washington, DC alone provided almost $300 million of the record campaign spending, more than the total contributions of 32 states combined. I believe that private campaign contributions facilitate an unholy alliance between those with the means to fund political campaigns and those who depend on their contributions to get elected.”

In the House of Representatives, the Fair Elections Now Act is listed as H.R. 1404. The following members of the U.S. House have provided formal support to the legislation:

Rep. John Larson (Democrat-CT, District 1) — principal sponsor
Rep. Tammy Baldwin (Democrat-WI, District 2)
Rep. Bruce Braley (Democrat-IA, District 1)
Rep. Michael Capuano (Democrat-MA, District 8.)
Rep. Steve Cohen (Democrat-TN, District 9)
Rep. John Conyers (Democrat-MI, District 14)
Rep. Jim Cooper (Democrat-TN, District 5)
Rep. Joe Courtney (Democrat-CT, District 2)
Rep. Susan Davis (Democrat-CA, District 53)
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Democrat-CT, District 3)
Rep. Michael Doyle (Democrat-PA, District 14)
Rep. Donna Edwards (Democrat-MD, District 4)
Rep. Keith Ellison (Democrat-MN, District 5)
Rep. Anna Eshoo (Democrat-CA, District 14)
Rep. Bob Filner (Democrat-CA, District 51)
Rep. Raul Grijalva (Democrat-AZ, District 7)
Rep. Martin Heinrich (Democrat-NM, District 1)
Rep. Maurice Hinchey (Democrat-NY, District 22)
Rep. Mazie Hirono (Democrat-HI, District 2)
Rep. Rush Holt (Democrat-NJ, District 12)
Rep. Michael Honda (Democrat-CA, District 15)
Rep. Steve Israel (Democrat-NY, District 2)
Rep. Jesse Jackson (Democrat-IL, District 2)
Rep. Walter Jones (Republican-NC, District 3)
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Democrat-OH, District 10)
Rep. Barbara Lee (Democrat-CA, District 9)
Rep. John Lewis (Democrat-GA, District 5)
Rep. David Loebsack (Democrat-IA, District 2)
Rep. Doris Matsui (Democrat-CA, District 5)
Rep. George Miller (Democrat-CA, District 7)
Rep. Christopher Murphy (Democrat-CT, District 5)
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (Democrat-NY, District 8.)
Rep. John Olver (Democrat-MA, District 1)
Rep. Chellie Pingree (Democrat-ME, District 1)
Rep. Jared Polis (Democrat-CO, District 2)
Rep. Steven Rothman (Democrat-NJ, District 9)
Rep. John Sarbanes (Democrat-MD, District 3)
Rep. Janice Schakowsky (Democrat-IL, District 9)
Rep. Brad Sherman (Democrat-CA, District 27)
Rep. Pete Stark (Democrat-CA, District 13)
Rep. Paul Tonko (Democrat-NY, District 21)
Rep. Niki Tsongas (Democrat-MA, District 5)
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (Democrat-CA, District 6)
Rep. John Yarmuth (Democrat-KY, District 3)

In the Senate, the legislation is listed as S. 750. The following 12 senators are sponsors of the bill:

Sen. Richard Durbin (Democrat-IL) — principal sponsor
Sen. Barbara Boxer (Democrat-CA)
Sen. Benjamin Cardin (Democrat-MD)
Sen. Al Franken (Democrat-MN)
Sen. Tom Harkin (Democrat-IA)
Sen. John Kerry (Democrat-MA)
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Democrat-MN)
Sen. Patrick Leahy (Democrat-VT)
Sen. Jeff Merkley (Democrat-OR)
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Democrat-MD)
Sen. Bernard Sanders (Independent-VT)
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat-NH)
Sen. Jon Tester (Democrat-MT)

Only one Republican currently in Congress, Representative Walter Jones, supports the bill.

One Comment

on “Fair Elections Now Act Receives Hearing In Senate
One Comment on “Fair Elections Now Act Receives Hearing In Senate
  1. I was hoping for much more information about the bills than was provided. Nice to see who is supporting them, but what does the bill stipulate?

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