September 18, 2014 · 23 Elul

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Legislative Summary

Fair Elections Now Act (H.R. 1404/S. 750)

While we currently have public financing for presidential elections, there is no system for Congressional campaigns. The Fair Elections Now Act (H.R. 1404/S. 750) would create a voluntary “clean money” public financing system for Congressional elections.

Clean money campaign financing systems, including voluntary public financing of elections, do exist in a number of states thus far. This public financing plan is a voluntary system in which candidates qualify for full public financing for their primary and general election campaigns by rejecting private financing and demonstrating a certain level of support in their district or state. Candidates must first meet ballot access requirements, and also the eligibility threshold for clean money funding. Most proposals require candidates to collect, during a pre-defined qualifying period, a prescribed number of signatures and $5 qualifying contributions from registered voters in their state or district. Candidates who meet clean money requirements and agree not to raise or spend private money during the primary and general election campaign periods receive a set amount of money or matching funds from the clean money fund and will typically also receive a media voucher. In this citizen-funded “fair elections” system, qualified candidates who take no contributions larger than $100 can run for Congress on a combination.

Urge your members of Congress to counteract the increasing influence of corporate money in elections by co-sponsoring the Fair Elections Now Act (S. 750/H.R. 1404). Visit the RAC's Chai Impact Action Center to call or send an email to your members of Congress today.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court released its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which considered the constitutionality of corporate spending limits established by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. The close, 5-4 decision found that for the purposes of donating to campaigns, corporations are the same as individuals, and are therefore guaranteed free speech endowed in the First Amendment.

The ruling effectively struck down parts of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (see below) which prohibited unions and corporations from running issue ads before primary and general elections.

Though the decision does not directly affect state law, there are 24 states that currently prohibit or restrict corporate and/or union spending in elections that will likely elect not to enforce these laws from this point forward. The Citizens United decision does not strike down bans on corporate contributions to candidates, which currently exist in 23 states, but bans direct corporate and union spending on campaign advertising.

In a lengthy and strong dissent joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor and read from the bench, Justice John Paul Stevens called the majority “profoundly misguided” and stated that the decision “threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation…the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant,” Stevens said, especially when discussing elections.

There are two main courses of action open to opponents of the Citizens United ruling. First, Congress could provide additional access to funds for candidates or parties to counteract corporate influence in elections, restrict spending under certain circumstances, or require additional disclosure of expenditures through legislative means. Another possible response gaining favor in the non-profit advocacy community and among opponents of the decision on the Hill is to amend the Constitution.  If Congress should choose not to act, corporations will be permitted to make independent expenditures in federal election campaigns however they so choose.

Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002

The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (PL 107-155), better known as the McCain-Feingold bill or BCRA, banned soft money contributions in federal elections and strengthens regulations on issue ads run during the election season, thus ensuring that groups like the National Right-to-Life Committee and Planned Parenthood could pour unregulated amounts of money into political advertisements that support or oppose particular candidates in the weeks leading up to an election. It also included provisions that aid politicians running against wealthy self-financed candidates. Much of this law was struck down in the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.

The bill faced a number of challenges in Congress before being signed into law. BCRA passed the Senate on April 2, 2001 by a vote of 59 to 41. Ten months later, on February 14, 2002, the House of Representatives followed suit by approving its companion legislation, the Shays-Meehan bill, by a vote of 240 to 189. The two bills differed somewhat, so instead of trying to work out the details in a conference committee, which would likely have sent the bill into indefinite legislative limbo, the Senate took up the House version of the bill and, on March 20, passed it by a vote of 60 to 40. A week later, after years of effort by campaign finance reform advocates, President Bush signed the bill into law. It will become effective immediately following the November 2002 elections.



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