WASHINGTON, D.C. ― U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, along with 23 Senate colleagues, have introduced the Fair Elections Now Act, which would dramatically change the way U.S. Senate elections are financed.
Under the legislation, qualified Senate candidates would earn grants, matching funds, and television vouchers to run competitive campaigns based on small-dollar contributions, rather than rely on funding from wealthy donors and corporate special interests.
The Fair Elections Now Act would help reduce the influence of wealthy donors and big-money special interests by creating a voluntary system of public financing for Senate candidates. Candidates who participate in the Fair Elections process would agree to limit their campaign spending to the amounts raised from small-dollar donors plus the amounts provided by the Fair Elections Fund.
“Ever since Citizens United gave a blank check to corporations and the ultrawealthy to influence our politics, special interests have poured unlimited sums of money into our elections—much of it lacking even basic transparency. As a result, too many Americans in New Mexico and across the country have every reason to believe that their government no longer answers to them,” said Udall, the lead sponsor of the For the People Act, a comprehensive package of pro-democracy and anti-corruption electoral reforms. “This bill would create a level playing field with a public financing system that amplifies the voices of regular voters and empowers small-dollar, grassroots donors from across the political spectrum. Now more than ever, we need to reform our broken campaign finance laws, get big money out of politics, and put power back in the hands of the American people—be they Republicans, Democrats or independents.”
“We have a broken campaign finance system that lets billionaires and corporations exercise outsized influence in our elections all while hiding in the shadows,” Heinrich said. “This bill helps restore public confidence in congressional elections that currently force candidates to constantly chase money for their campaign coffers. Our electoral process should be fair and open, and the results should ensure every citizen has an equal voice in our democracy.”
The Fair Elections Now Act is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Angus King (I-Maine), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
The bill is also supported by a number of organizations, including Public Citizen, Common Cause, the Brennan Center for Justice, League of Women Voters, Democracy 21, Voices for Progress, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, and Demos.
The Fair Elections Now Act amends the Federal Elections Campaign Act of 1971 to establish a voluntary method for financing Senate campaigns. The Fair Elections system is composed of three stages:
To participate, candidates would first need to prove their viability by raising a minimum number and minimum dollar amount of small-dollar qualifying contributions from in-state donors. Once a candidate qualifies, that candidate must limit the amount raised from each donor to $200 per election.
For the primary, participants would receive a base grant that would vary in amount based on the population of the state that the candidate seeks to represent. Participants would also receive a 6-to-1 match for small-dollar donations up to a defined matching cap. After reaching that cap, the candidate could raise an unlimited amount of unmatched $200 contributions if needed to compete against high-spending opponents, as well as contributions from small-donor People PACs. The candidate could also opt to request additional small-dollar matching funds in the period just before the general election.
For the general election, qualified candidates would receive an additional grant, small-dollar matching, and media vouchers for television advertising. The candidate could continue to raise an unlimited amount of $200 contributions if needed, as well as contributions from small-donor People PACs.
The bill also creates a type of small-donor political action committee, known as a “People PAC.” In contrast to traditional federal PACs that can accept contributions of up to $5,000 per year from individuals or Super PACs that can accept unlimited contributions, People PACs would only be permitted to accept contributions of $200 or less per election from individuals. People PACs would thus allow average citizens an opportunity for making their collective voices heard. Small donors would be able to aggregate their funds in a People PAC to make campaign contributions of up to $5,000 per election to qualified Fair Elections candidates. Coupled with the Fair Elections public financing system, People PACs would elevate the views and interests of a diverse spectrum of Americans, rather than those of the traditional, wealthy donor class.
Special rules would apply for runoff and uncontested elections. Participating candidates would receive enough funding to compete in every election, without having to spend most of their time raising money.
The Fair Elections Now Act wouldn’t add a dime to the deficit. It would be financed by a 0.5 percent fee on annual federal contracts over $10 million, with a maximum annual fee of $500,000 per contract.
The bill was included earlier this year in the For the People Act – a sweeping package of comprehensive reforms that would fix our broken politics and make government work for the people. The landmark legislation, companion legislation to H.R. 1 in the U.S. House of Representatives, aimed to restore the promise of American democracy by making it easier, not harder, to vote; ending the dominance of big money in politics; and ensuring that public officials work for the public interest. Earlier this year, the House passed H.R. 1 by a vote of 234-193.