Friday, May 30, 2008

Barack Obama will change the system

From December 29th, 2007

I have been interested in politics for two years at most. I have only become a political geek as of the last few months. Over that time I have become convinced that we need real progressive change to lift up this country and make it great again. I have also become convinced that to do that we need real, systematic change. That can mean a lot of things but in this case I am talking about changing the way the political process works. To make a progressive America we need full public financing of elections for all elections. We need media reform that will restore balance and reason to the political debate in our country. We need a transparent government so the people can hold the politicians accountable. We need election reform to insure all political voices have a say and that everyone who wants to vote can vote. We need to reign in the power of corporate lobbyists.

In short we need to close all the loopholes that allow the rich and powerful in this country to have a larger say in democracy then average people. I believe that out of all the candidates running Barack Obama is the one who will do the most to implement these systematic reforms.

Alright now done to the real stuff. I was going to go through each issue that I listed but it would make the diary way to long to read. So I'm just going to focus on the one most important issue to me. Public financing of elections.

Public Financing
There are two main bills dealing with public financing in congress right now and Obama is a lead sponsor on both. With help from some great organizations I will try to explain them.

S.1285: Durin-Specter-Feingold-Obama Fair Elections Now Act

I'll let the Fair Elections experts at Common Cause and Public Campaign explain this one.


The Fair Elections Now Act would restore public confidence in the election process by allowing qualified candidates to receive campaign funds from the Senate Fair Elections Fund instead of asking for money from private interests. In return, participating candidates would voluntarily agree to limit their campaign spending to the amount allocated to them. This voluntary alternative to traditional privately financed campaigns would free candidates from the incessant, time-consuming money chase that has tainted public perceptions of elected officials and fostered abuses that undermine our democracy. Candidates could instead devote their time and energy to talking with their constituents about the issues that are important to them.

How does it work?

A publicly-funded candidate under the Fair Elections system goes through three basic steps: raise seed money, collect qualifying contributions to reach the required threshold, and then — once qualified — receive public funding to run a campaign. During the campaign, a publicly funded candidate would be eligible to receive additional matching funds if his or her opponent was outspending him with a privately financed campaign.

Here's a closer look at the three steps for a candidate who opts for public funding.

Step One: Seed Money

Before declaring an intent to run as a "Fair Elections," or publicly funded candidate, a U.S. Senate candidate could solicit, accept, and spend seed money contributions of up to $100 from individual contributors (but not from PACs or other special interests) living in any state. Seed money expenditures would be limited to a starting cap of $75,000, for a state with one Congressional district; for each additional district in the state, the cap increases by $7500. Senate candidates could spend seed money for any election campaign-related expense, and any excess spending in Stage One would be deducted from the candidate's Fair Elections allocation.

Step Two: Qualifying Contributions

To demonstrate viability as a publicly financed candidate, a major party candidate would be required to gather a specified minimum number of qualifying contributions of exactly $5 each. The minimum number of qualifying contributions required for any particular state would be equal to 2,000 plus a formula of 500 times the number of congressional districts in the state minus one. Qualifying contributions must be collected from residents in the candidate's home state, and these contributions must be turned over to the Senate Fair Elections Fund to help finance the Fair Elections system. To protect the Fair Elections Fund from fly-by-night candidates lured by visions of free funding, independent and minor party candidates would have to raise 150% of the number of qualifying contributions that a major party candidate would be required to raise in the same election.

Step Three: Allocation of Funds to Qualified Candidates

Qualified candidates would receive general election funding in the amount of $750,000 plus a formula that is $150,000 times the number of congressional districts in a state, minus one. The funds available for the primary would be equal to 67 percent of the general election allocation. Participants facing privately funded opponents or heavy independent expenditures would be eligible for increased dollar-for-dollar "fair fight funds" up to 200 percent above the base general election allocation. For instance, a candidate in a state with three Congressional districts would receive $1 million for the general election, and could receive an additional $2 million if his or her opponent spent that much in private funds. Publicly funded candidates would also receive one media voucher for every Congressional district in their state, with each voucher worth $100,000 towards the purchase of broadcast time.

For a state-by-state breakdown of the allocations for qualifying Fair Elections candidates, click here.

How is it funded?

Who makes the most money off of the skyrocketing cost of campaigns these days? It's not the candidates, and it's not even their consultants. In fact, it's the broadcasting industry that pockets 52 cents out of every dollar — more than half of the money! — spent on the average Senate campaign.*

Broadcasters use the public airwaves for free, and are bound to provide the public service of covering campaigns and elections thoroughly — an obligation that they do not always fulfill. Meanwhile, broadcasters in the top ten media markets have profit margin of nearly 50%.

So funding for the broadcast media vouchers would come from a small spectrum use fee on commercial broadcasters. The fee of up to 2% of gross annual revenues represents a small fraction of broadcasters' outsized profits. The public funding grants under the Fair Elections Now Act would be paid for by a 10% fee on the upcoming auction of the public spectrum.

* Data from Campaign Study group, 2000 cycle

Who supports it?

The Fair Elections Now Act earned the support of many groups beyond the reform community, which is enthusiastically behind the bill. Major labor groups like the AFL-CIO, civil rights groups like NAACP, and a host of other national groups such as the League of Women Voters, the National Council of Churches, the Sierra Club, and others have endorsed the bill.

Below is a list of the national organizations endorsing the Fair Elections Now Act (S.1285):

• Brennan Center for Justice
• Common Cause
• Democracy Matters
• Public Campaign
• Public Citizen
• Americans for Campaign Reform
• Campaign for America's Future
• Communications Workers of America
• Democracy 21
• Dolores Huerta Foundation
• League of Conservation Voters
• League of Women Voters
• Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund
• National Coalition on Black Civic Participation
• National Council of Churches USA
• Sierra Club
• US Action
• William C. Velazquez Institute

There you go, a strong, viable bill to implement clean elections at the Senate level. There is also a companion bill, H.R.1614 in the House. So when enacted this would apply to Senate and House races. However it does not include presidential races. So that's why we need the Feingold-Obama Presidential Funding Act of 2007.

S.436: Feingold-Obama Presidential Funding Act of 2007


-The bill increases the amount of matching funds for the presidential primaries from a 1:1 match for up to $250 of an individual's aggregate contributions, to a 4:1 match for up to $200 of an individual's contribution.

1. The bill increases the spending limit for candidates who choose to participate in the presidential primary public financing system from its current level of approximately $45 million, to $150 million, with a sub-limit of no more than $100 million to be spent by April 1. The bill increases the spending limit for participating general election candidates from its current level of $75 million, to $100 million. The limits are indexed for inflation. The bill repeals the primary state-by-state spending limits.

2. To qualify for public financing in the primary election, a candidate must raise $25,000 in each of 20 states, in amounts of no more than $200 of each individual's aggregate contribution. This increases the $5,000 per state requirement in current law. A candidate also must commit to accept public financing in both the primary and general election in order to receive public funds for the primary election.

3. The bill moves the starting date for the payment of matching funds to primary candidates from January 1 of the election year to six months before the first primary or caucus is held by a party to select its presidential nominee.

4. The bill provides that if one or more participating candidates in the primary election are running against a non-participating candidate of the same party who raises or spends more than 120 percent of the primary election spending limit, the spending limit for the participating candidates is increased to $150 million during the pre-April 1 period or $200 million for the whole primary period.

5. If a participating candidate in the general election is running against a non-participating candidate in the general election who has raised or spent more than $300 million for the combined primary and general election, the amount of the public funds provided to the participating candidate for the general election is doubled from $100 million to $200 million.

6. The amount of the check-off on the tax form to fund the public financing system is increased from $3 to $10 per individual and indexed for inflation.

7. The legislation would take effect on January 1, 2009 and be effective for presidential elections following the 2008 election.

There you go. Two great bill's that will radically change the political system and the country. And Barack Obama is the only one running for president who has sponsored either of them. Plus he isn't just signing on to this legislation, he is introducing it. Obama is a leader on public financing. Without public financing of elections the rich have at least 2,300 times as much influence as anyone else. I hate to sound class warfarish but the rich are much more conservative then others because it serves their interests. It's okay for them to have interests but it is not OK in a democracy for one group of people to hold that much more power then anyone else. It's anti-democratic and doesn't make any sense.

We also need to make sure people who support public financing of elections are elected. That's why I'm supporting Obama and pledging not to support anyone who isn't for clean elections. But it won't mean anything unless we have a clean elections president. In this system that means donating to candidates who are right on the issues. Barack Obama could be the president who changes the system but we have to make sure he has the support to beat the system.

Donate now to help me and Barack Obama change the system.

Together we can change the world.

4 days 'till change.

1 comment:

Matt said...

Thanks for posting about the Fair Elections Now Act. Like you, my most passionate interests lie outside of politics, but I see the need to change how we finance our elections as a root issue that is paramount to everything else I care about. That's why I work full time at Americans for Campaign Reform ( - check it out.

You're pretty astute in all of the problems public funding could fix:
-who runs for office
-who gets elected
-who elected officials listen to

Anyway, thanks for promoting the bill.