The employees and political action committees of securities and investment firms like Goldman Sachs and Bank of America have given more than $577,000 to Florida members of Congress so far this election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. While the boardrooms of these big banks might be thousands of miles away, their campaign checks are not.
And that's the problem with our current system. Wall Street lobbyists and big corporations are spending millions of dollars to influence members of Congress, while the voices of everyday Americans are being drowned out. It's a vicious cycle: as long as special interests control elections, they will continue to exert undue influence over public policy, drowning out the voice of the average citizen. As the cost of running for office continues to skyrocket, this will only get worse.
It's time to make politicians accountable to us instead of their big campaign donors. The most comprehensive solution to this problem is the Fair Elections Now Act legislation. The act, HR 1826 & S. 752, would enable congressional candidates to receive limited Fair Elections funds in exchange for rejecting large dollar contributions. With Fair Elections, candidates would have to rely solely on small contributions from within the state to fund their campaigns.
Modeled after successful Fair Elections-style systems already working in several states, the Fair Elections Now Act enjoys bipartisan support with a growing list of 153 co-sponsors in the House and 20 in the Senate. Republicans, Blue Dogs, New Democrats, and Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucus members are all counted among its co-sponsors.
Not surprisingly, recent bipartisan polling shows that the public supports the Fair Elections Now Act by a 2-to-1 ratio — 62 percent to 31 percent. One important reason is that it does not use taxpayer dollars and will not impact the federal deficit, as matching funds would come from government contractor fees and increased penalties for campaign violations.
The program is completely voluntary, and similar provisions have been upheld by the courts as constitutionally sound. The Fair Elections Now Act is backed by a coalition of Florida organizations and more than 40 national organizations representing tens of millions of Americans.
HR 1826 may come up for a House floor vote within the next couple of weeks. Similar programs in Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, New Mexico, North Carolina and Oregon have already ended the money chase for hundreds of public officials in those states. Passage of these commonsense reforms in Washington, D.C., would be a huge first step toward cleaning up Congress.
Voters' voices have been drowned out by corporate cash for too long. Last January's Citizens United vs. FEC Supreme Court ruling, which allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaign advertising, should give even more impetus for citizens to reclaim their democracy.
Daniel Smith is an associate professor of political science and director of the political campaigning program at the University of Florida.