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Renewing the Call for Congressional Campaign Finance Reform

Renewing the Call for Congressional Campaign Finance Reform

As Americans took to the polls earlier this month, campaign finance reform proposals emerged victoriously in cities and states across the country.

In Seattle, for example, citizens voted overwhelmingly to implement a public financing program in which each registered voter will be given four $25 vouchers to contribute to candidates for local office. The program, which will be paid for with a modest increase in property taxes, is the first of its kind and a potential model for other cities interested in limiting the influence of big money in their elections.

Meanwhile, voters in Maine approved a ballot initiative to reform and improve the public financing system put in place nearly two decades ago. The initiative came in response to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which opened the door for massive amounts of outside spending by corporations and unions. Candidates participating in Maine’s public financing program can now request additional funds if Super PACs pour large sums of money into elections on behalf of their opponents.

Despite welcome progress at the state and local levels, campaign finance reform at the federal level remains stuck in gridlock, and election costs are skyrocketing. As the 2016 election cycle nears, some estimates put total expected spending by candidates, parties and outside groups at nearly $10 billion.

Faced with so much money pouring into our elections, we are reminded of the teaching on gifts and influence in Deuteronomy 16:19: “You shall not judge unfairly: you shall know no partiality; you shall not take gifts, for gifts blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the pleas of the just.” A political system saturated with outside, concentrated money simply cannot free itself of the influence of those making the financial contributions.

The Reform Movement first expressed concern about the growing influence of money in politics in 1984, long before Citizens United and related Supreme Court decisions weakened regulations on campaign finance. At that time, the Movement called for a congressional public financing program based on matching funds to mirror the system that already existed for presidential elections.

Today, the need for public financing of congressional elections is perhaps even greater than it was in the 1980s. Fortunately, legislation has been introduced in the 114th Congress to implement such a system. The Fair Elections Now Act (S. 1538) and the Government by the People Act (H.R. 20) would create public financing systems based on grants, matching funds and media vouchers for both Senate and for House elections. Both bills would also provide tax credits to incentivize voters making small contributions to publicly-financed candidates.

While not a panacea for the many finance-related problems plaguing our elections, the Fair Elections Now Act and the Government by the People Act would put in place meaningful reforms that increase the political power of ordinary voters and limit the influence of big money. As a Movement, we must urge Congress to take up the mantle of campaign finance reform and pass these vital pieces of legislation.

Adam Waters is a 2015-2016 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. He grew up in Coral Springs, FL, and was a member of Temple Beth Orr. Adam graduated from Brown University.

Adam Waters

Published: 11/25/2015