It’s been a hard week for campaign financereform advocates, what with the failure of the DISCLOSE Actto once again overcome a Republican filibuster on Thursday in the Senate, but Congress did make progress on a different, yet related, measure in the House yesterday. It’s called the Fair Elections Now Act (H.R. 6116), and yesterday it cleared the House Committee on Administration with bipartisan support. Public Citizen’s David Arkush hailed the bill and its passage out of committee as “one of the most effective single steps Congress could take to loosen the special interests’ grip on Washington. It would enable candidates to forgo large campaign contributions and instead fund their campaigns with small donations from average Americans, which would be multiplied by matching federal funds.” The goal of the bill is to set up an alternative system of financingCongressional campaigns that House and Senate candidates could opt into. If candidates qualify by obtaining sufficient initial support, they would receive a lump sum right off the bat. Donations of $100 or less from in-statecontributors would then be matched by the government4 to 1. Participating candidates would also receive a 20% reduction from the lowest broadcast rates in their state or district. In return, a candidate’s PAC would be limited to a $100 contribution limit per individual per year.
Public financing has been a touchy subject among the Obama administration and good government groups ever since Obama decided to opt out of the public system of presidential campaign financing while on the campaign trail in 2008. He declared the system antiquated (which it was) and pledged to fix it when he got elected (which he hasn’t).
The Fair Elections Now Act deals with congressional elections, but look for another bill sponsored by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.) and Reps. David E. Price (D-N.C.), Michael N. Castle(R-Del.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Todd R. Platts (R-Pa.) that deals with the presidential public campaign financesystem to start getting more attention as well, especially as the 2012 race inches closer. It seems unlikely, though, that a Republican-heavy Congress will feel compelled to work with the presidenton a bill in that context.