The Alternative to Wooing Wealthy Candidates

You're way behind in fundraising for congressional races. The tide of public opinion is against you. What's a party to do? Recruit wealthy candidates, of course.

December 7, 2007

*Cross-posted from The Huffington Post's Off the Bus 

You're way behind in fundraising for congressional races. The tide
of public opinion is against you. What's a party to do? Recruit
super-wealthy candidates, of course.

Last week the New York Times described the GOP's plan
to seek candidates able to self-finance their campaigns to make up for
relatively weak fundraising numbers. In the first 10 months of 2007,
the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised $16 million more than the National Republican Congressional Committee. The GOP's Senate committee raised just $26.3 million in the same period compared to the $45.1 million raised by its Democratic counterpart. Yet as the Times notes, the Democrats too have their share of deep-pocketed contenders.

The unabashed interest in wealthy candidates is one of this campaign
season's most blatant signs that our system of choosing elected
officials is broken. Instead of seeking out the brightest, most capable
Americans to take on the tough issues facing our country, the parties
are checking the wallets of potential candidates for American Express Black Cards.

So what's the alternative? Public financing of congressional
elections. As we've seen on the state level in Maine and Arizona,
public financing systems give candidates of any personal means
the chance to attract public support and receive funds to run a
competitive campaign. Public financing frees candidates from the
pressures of fundraising, allowing sitting officials to concentrate on
serving their constituents. Out on the trail, publicly funded
candidates woo voters, not just big donors, by addressing the issues
important to ordinary Americans. And individuals who would rather stick
to the old system are able to opt out and raise funds privately.

A bill like the Fair Elections Now Act,
introduced by Senators Durbin (D-IL) and Specter (R-PA), would go a
long way toward making campaigns more about fitness for office and less
about individual wealth or access to big donors.