Common Cause and Public Campaign, two organizations known for exposing the murkier influences on legislative and electoral processes, are staking $8 million to try and burnish Congress with the willpower to pass the Fair Elections Now Act. And they're willing to spend as much as $15 million on their campaign-season gambit.
"We'll draw it out until we win," said David Donnelly, the campaign manager for the Campaign for Fair Elections. "We will continue the advertising, continue the grassroots organizing, continue the targeting and creative action.”
The bill would provide public campaign money to candidates who proved they had a broad base of support by raising a set threshold of small-dollar donations. The program would be completely voluntary but would at least give candidates a way to run a viable campaign without needing to beg rich donors and powerful corporations for money.
The corrupting influence of big-money donations on our politicians is one of the biggest problems with our country. It is effectively a form of legalized bribery, and the result is felt well outside issues related to good government. Why do we pay nearly twice as much as the rest of the world for health care? Why can't Congress approve the highly popular deficit-reducing policy or drug re-importation? Why can't we deal properly with the concept of “too big to fail”? The answer almost always tracks back to the fact that those reforms would hurt corporations with deep pockets. Corporations that are prepared to spend huge amounts on political campaigns.
While the corrupting influence of money is not the only problem with our government, helping to fix it through voluntary public financing would at least move us toward a government more representative of regular people. You can't expect members of Congress to stand up to corporations when their jobs depend heavily on getting "gifts" from those same groups. It is like having the guards of the hen house paid for with gifts directly from the foxes.
Our system of money in politics is rotten to its core. If we ever adopt viable, voluntary public financing for all federal elections, I suspect in a few decades people will look back and be shocked that regular Americans ever tolerated the current system.