Business as Usual: The Fundraising Treadmill

Our guest blogger is Lisa Gilbert, a Democracy Advocate with U.S. PIRG.

President Obama and congressional leaders responded quickly to the latest AIG scandal. But here’s the problem: the financial hijinks of AIG, mortgage bankers, and others had already triggered our economic woes. Part of the reason better regulations were not put in place years ago is that AIG and others in the financial sector have contributed $1.3 billion dollars to congressional candidates since 2000. To make sure this can never happen again we need a clean system of campaign financing, one where politicians listen to regular people.

How do we make this a reality? The bipartisan bicameral Fair Elections Now Act, which will be introduced tomorrow in the Senate Press Gallery by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (R-PA), and Reps. John Larson (D-CT),Walter Jones (R-NC), Jim Cooper (D-TN), and Todd Platts (R-PA).

Under this bill, a candidate must demonstrate a broad base of community support by collecting a set number of small dollar donations from their constituencies at home. Once qualified, candidates receive a grant to help kick off their campaigns, and receive matching funds at a 4:1 rate for small dollar donations between $5 and $100.


Our nation’s current campaign system forces elected officials onto a never-ending fundraising treadmill — the day after they take office, politicians must turn an eye towards raising enough money for their reelection. This climate often leads to legislators spending more time talking to influential big donors and deep-pocketed interest groups, than focused on the vital issues of the day.

In a recent bipartisan poll by the Tarrence Group and Lake Research, nearly four in five voters thought that large contributions and their influence would prevent Congress from tackling big hot button issues like the mortgage melt down, our out of control health care costs, and the fragile national economy. Voters in six states this past November also expressed their strong support for state candidates who used Fair Elections-style systems. In both Connecticut and Maine, more than 80 percent of the seats in their incoming legislatures will be held by those who ran using Fair Elections programs.

Every major demographic group solidly favors the Fair Elections proposal. This includes remarkable support across party lines and virtually no difference by region. Nationwide people understand that in order to actually usher in the change administration that President Obama promised, we need to change the “business as usual,” mentality in Washington, and help politicians get off the treadmill and “on” tackling the real issues of the day.