Sitting in a university auditorium on a Saturday morning for a Young Democrat convention and listening to one Maryland Democratic lawmaker after another gush about how much the party has accomplished, how great and beautiful the state is, and how I need to help re-elect Obama and Ben Cardin can be tiring. I also think it’s preaching to the choir – do I really have to be reminded of how awesome it is to live in Maryland when I read about what’s been going on in Virginia? Or how important it is to re-elect Obama? I don’t think so. Thank you, enthusiastic Democratic state delegate! Moving on…
So, I sat up a little straighter in my seat when Congressman John Sarbanes (District 3) began to talk about public financing for campaigns and the Fair Elections Now Act. Campaign financing has been a hot topic of conversation for months in the 2012 presidential primary, with the rise of super PACs (political action committees), the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and the influence of billionaires like Foster Friess and Sheldon Adelson. All of these elements have created a perfect storm of unprecedented monied influence in the Romney, Santorum and Gingrich campaigns. According to The Washington Post, five donors accounted for 25 percent of the money that flowed into the presidential race in January. The filthy rich men who infuse the presidential race with millions are casino owners (Adelson), hedge funders, corporate raiders, homebuilders and businessmen (PayPal’s Peter Thiel). And when these “kingmakers” are dumping buckets of money into Republican presidential campaigns, they sometimes feel free to give their political opinion on women’s healthcare (see: Foster Friess’ aspirin between the knees). The only time super PACs are laughable is when I watch The Colbert Report.
Back to the Fair Elections Now Act, which Sarbanes co-sponsors and models in his own re-election bid for his fourth term in the House of Representatives. The bill would allow federal candidates to choose to run for office without relying on donations from lobbyists and large contributions from big money. Candidates would have to raise a large amount of small donations from their communities in order to qualify for Fair Elections funding.
For example, Sarbanes would have to collect 1,500 contributions from Marylanders and raise a total of $50,000 in order to qualify. He would then receive $900,000 in Fair Election funding with 40 percent of the money split for the primary and 60 percent for the general election. The Fair Elections fund would also continue to match small donations raised by him and other House and Senate candidates.
The novel idea of the Fair Elections Now Act is that by publicly financing House and Senate campaigns, candidates would be freed from constant fundraising and could spend more time focusing on what their constituents need. (Yes, our elected officials could truly have the chance to be public servants. Amazing!) By focusing on small, grassroots donations, it makes the candidate more accountable to the voter, who wields more influence than usual with his/her $5 or $20 campaign contribution, because the candidate needs it and the person’s vote. It’s a model that more politicians should be using. And it’s refreshing and admirable to hear a Maryland Congressman put his money where his mouth is.
There are a few things we can do to support the Fair Elections Now Act. Let’s take back our collective power as voters and make public financing of political campaigns the norm in our communities.