The House Administration Committee held a hearing on July 30 on the Fair Elections Now Act (H.R. 1826), at which members heard testimony on the bill and how similarly modeled programs have worked in the states.
Each member of the committee was given the chance to make introductory remarks before proceeding. Although there was some disagreement, all of the members agreed on one thing: their disdain for political fundraising. “I’m going to put it on the record, I hate raising money for campaigns. The only two people I know who enjoyed it, both went to prison,” said Rep. Daniel Lungren (R-Calif.).
Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) echoed this sentiment in his testimony:
“I actually think this concept [public financing] is exactly what we need. I hate raising money. I hate it. I hate the fact that the general public thinks that every time I raise a dollar, I’m being bought. I hate it. It’s bad not just for me. It’s bad for the system, it’s bad for people’s perception of government.…I would really much rather be reading a healthcare bill and having that debate, which is fine, or any number of things than ever picking up the phone to anybody to beg them, not for a hundred bucks but for thousands of dollars.”
The committee heard testimony from two panels of witnesses. The first panel included the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), and original co-sponsors Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.). Speaking first, Rep. Larson said:
“Unfortunately there is, and will remain, the perception that contributions mean influence. This perception is incredibly harmful to Congress as an institution. It erodes the faith and trust of the American people in their government—a critical part of our democracy. We must change this system.“
Rep. Jones followed with some powerful remarks:
“I walked into this room today thinking this was the most important testimony that I could be part of because the system is broken, the system needs to be fixed. Mr. Larson has presented a bill that will work us towards a fix of this problem…[L]et’s return Congress to where they vote based on their conscience not on the influence or perceived influence of money that buys the conscience. Let’s return it back to the people.”
The second panel was comprised of witnesses representing both sides of the debate. Those speaking in favor of the bill were Maine state Speaker of the House of Representatives (and daughter of Rep. Pingree) Hannah Pingree (D); Jeffrey Garfield, executive director & general counsel of the Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission; and Arn Pearson, vice president for Programs at Common Cause. Testifying in opposition were Brad Smith, professor of Law at Capital University School of Law and chairman and co-founder of the Center for Competitive Politics; and John Samples, director for the Center for Representative Government at the right-leaning CATO Institute.
Pearson, who closed out the hearing with his testimony, left the members of the committee with a poignant question.
“I doubt this is what you had in mind when you decided to run for Congress. Surely the American people did not send Mr. Smith to Washington to spend his time raising money. They expect and deserve more, and so do you. If you could start from scratch, would this be the system you would choose?”
The hearing was a huge success. Members of the committee were engaged and the committee room was standing room only. During the August recess we will continue to ask lawmakers to co-sponsor the bill through phone calls, e-alerts, letters to the editor, and participating in town hall meetings. Be on the lookout for future calls to action and don’t forget to ask your member to support the Fair Elections Now Act!