It’s all about the money chase

Published: September 23 2010


his op-ed appared in The Miami Herald Sept. 7.

By: Daniel A. Smith
Daniel A. Smith is a University of Florida Research Foundation professor of political science and the director of the political campaigning program at UF.

Members of Congress are taking a hiatus from the summer heat in Washington, D.C., on recess until mid-September. But instead of addressing the concerns of voters, congressional members are busy attending pricey fundraisers and dialing-for-dollars in order to raise enough money for the November election.

Increasingly, our elected officials prioritize their own electoral self-preservation over the needs of the people they are supposed to represent. Voters have good reason to wonder if their elected officials are standing up for them — or their corporate and lobbyist donors — in Washington, D.C.

And that’s the problem with our current system. D.C. lobbyists, Wall Street fat cats and big corporations are spending millions of dollars to influence members of Congress, while the voices of everyday Americans are being drowned out.

It’s a vicious cycle: As long as special interests control elections, they will continue to exert undue influence over public policy, drowning out the voice of the average citizen. As the cost of running for office continues to skyrocket, this will only get worse.

It’s time to make politicians accountable to us instead of their big campaign donors. The most comprehensive solution to this problem is the Fair Elections Now Act (FENA) legislation. The act, HR 1826 and S 752, would enable congressional candidates to receive limited Fair Elections funds in exchange for rejecting large dollar contributions. With Fair Elections, candidates would have to rely solely on small contributions from within the state to fund their campaigns.

Modeled after successful Fair Elections-style systems already working in several states, the Fair Elections Now Act enjoys bipartisan support with a growing list of 185 co-sponsors in the House and 20 in the Senate.

In addition to Democratic Party Reps. Alan Grayson, Kendrick Meek, Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings, and Suzanne Kosmas, dozens of Republicans, Blue Dogs, New Democrats, and Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucus members are all counted among its co-sponsors.

Not surprisingly, recent bipartisan polling shows that the public supports the Fair Elections Now Act by a 2-to-1 ratio — 62 percent to 31 percent.

One important reason is that it does not use taxpayer dollars and will not impact the federal deficit, as matching funds would come from government contractor fees and increased penalties for campaign violations.

The program is completely voluntary, and similar provisions have been upheld by the courts as constitutionally sound. The Fair Elections Now Act is backed by a coalition of more than 40 national organizations representing tens of millions of Americans.

HR 1826 may come up for a House floor vote after the recess. Similar programs in Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, New Mexico, North Carolina and Oregon have already ended the money chase for hundreds of public officials in those states. Passage of these common-sense reforms in Washington, D.C. would be a huge first step toward cleaning up Congress.

For too long corporate and special interest lobbyists have enjoyed the kind of access to lawmakers that constituents could only dream of, and we’ve all seen the results. Those with the money and connections get the sweetheart deals and earmarks while everyday Americans are left out of the process.

Last January’s Citizens United vs. FEC Supreme Court ruling, which permits corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaign advertising, should give even more impetus for citizens to reclaim their democracy.

We need a government that is of, by and for the people, not bought and paid for by special interests. We can achieve this with passage of the Fair Elections Now Act.

Democratic and Republican members of Congress should rally behind the support for this bipartisan, common-sense set of reforms.

Their support would enhance their message over the congressional break when they are assuring voters that they are working for their constituents, and not the special interests.


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