Congressman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., has introduced a bill that seeks to diminish the influence of special interest groups.
The Fair Elections Now Act—or FENA —would create a public financing system for congressional races by providing a 5-to-1 federal match of contributions smaller than $100. In order to qualify, candidates would have to raise $50,000 through those small, in-state contributions.
Yarmuth says the legislation would enable more diverse candidates who are funded by small donations to compete in federal elections.
“The American people have ample evidence of the unfortunate influence of money on politics and policy. And FENA is an attempt to allow people to run for office and not be dependent upon big donors and therefore be primarily answerable to citizens and not to special interests,” he says.
During the 2008 presidential race, then-candidate Barack Obama rejected the public financing system, arguing that the system had collapsed. Obama was the first presidential contender to forgo the public money since the system was established in 1976.
Opponents argue that people seeking public office should be able to generate their own funding if they are viable candidates, and the government shouldn’t fund individuals with taxpayer dollars.
But Yarmuth says the flood of money into politics as a result of The Supreme Court’s Citizens United has had a corrosive effect, adding many Americans view Congress as up for sale.
“The way campaigns are now, where it sometimes takes $4 to $5 million over more to win a congressional seat,” he says. “I think most people given the option would rather not have to attempt to raise those huge sums of money and would like to rely on small donors and government funding.”
The bill was filed with 52 co-sponsors, but observers have given it little chance in passing the Republican-controlled House.