Campaign finance reform needs voter support now

Campaign finance reform needs voter support now

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Linda D. Lalley

Money — the heart and soul of political campaigns. Without it, candidates cannot get elected. Money — not qualifications or political ideology or constituent representation — has emerged as the primary qualifier for achieving public office. In fact, many voters believe wealthy special interests can “purchase” governmental access and influence through their campaign contributions and thus nullify constituents’ interests.

Nothing underscores the problem more than the key role money and influence played in creating the national financial crisis — just one more example of the enormous costs to citizens and taxpayers that come from federal candidates being dependent on special interest groups, lobbyists, bundlers and large contributions for their campaign funds.

Our representatives in Congress are spending an increasing amount of time raising money for their re-elections. And nine times out of 10, the higher-spending candidate — usually the incumbent — wins.

Incumbents have enjoyed near-perfect rates of re-election since 1998, and there has been a steady rise in the number of uncontested races. No surprise. Why would a non-incumbent, however well qualified, bother to run when faced with these odds?

What needs to be done?

It’s time to change the system. The League of Women Voters of Ohio, in coalition with LWV-United States and Americans for Campaign Reform, believes it’s time to support public funding for congressional candidates. With public funding, they become our elected representatives — not just the representatives of those with special interests and lots of money.

Imagine, if our elected representatives spent less time raising money and meeting the needs of their major donors, they would be able to spend more time talking with and working on behalf of all their constituents.

Public-funding laws are already working in Arizona, Connecticut and Maine, as well as in New York City and many other municipalities. In fact, public funding in some form is practiced in virtually every other democracy around the world.

What does public funding mean?

Public funding means that any candidate who qualifies to run for federal office (by raising a significant number of small donations from his or her constituents) will receive enough matching federal funds to run a competitive campaign. Voluntary public funding means that candidates are not required to accept such funds. But those who do will no longer have to rely on contributions from special interests, lobbyists or wealthy donors in order to run a successful campaign.

What will it cost?

Public funding might be the biggest bargain the American taxpayer will ever get. The amount of public funding each candidate receives must be high enough to mount a competitive election campaign — including staffing, organizing and advertising — so that voters are able to make an informed choice. Americans for Campaign Reform estimates that the total cost of funding at this level for all federal races — president, Senate and House — would be approximately $1.8 billion per year, or about $6 for each of the nearly 300 million citizens of our country.

Where would the money for public campaign funding come from?

The Fair Elections Now Act, to be introduced in the U.S. Senate this spring, would pay for public funding with a spectrum fee on private broadcasters’ sale of public airwaves — where the majority of campaign funds are spent to buy advertising.

What can be done?

Ohioans can play a critical role right now in the effort to reduce special interests’ influence and make public funding of congressional campaigns a reality. Ohio voters must let our representatives in Congress know that public funding of elections is a priority.

Please join us in urging Sens. George Voinovich and Sherrod Brown to co-sponsor the Fair Elections Now Act. Let’s level the playing field so congressional candidates can compete on their character, not on their bank accounts — and, as elected officials, have more time to act on their constituents’ behalf, the job for which they were elected.

Lalley is president of the League of Women Voters of Ohio.

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