A public financing system for Congressional elections would help combat the corrupting influence of money in politics. Under a public financing system, House and Senate candidates would have the option of raising a small number of qualifying contributions from their constituents and then receive a lump sum of public funds with which to finance their campaigns. Publicly financed candidates who face privately or self-financed opponents could continue raising small donations from constituents that would be matched at a rate of four-to-one by the federal government. Publicly financed elections would magnify the impact of small donations, discourage out-of-state fundraising, curtail the distorting influence of special interests, and make elected officials more accountable to their constituents.
The 2014 midterm elections saw the most expensive Senate race in history: in the contest between incumbent Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis, the candidates and outside groups spent a combined $111 million. This race was the first ever for a Senate seat to surpass $100 million in spending. Looking back to the 2012 Presidential election, President Obama and Governor Romney collectively raised over $2.4 billion attempting to win the White House. To win a seat in Congress in 2012, candidates spent an average of $1.6 million for a House seat and $10.3 million for a seat in the Senate.
Such large sums of money distort the election process, making participation difficult for candidates without huge reserves of personal funds. It also forces public servants seeking re-election to spend more time raising money and less time responding to the needs of constituents. Public financing has the potential to change the rules of the game, thereby injecting new ideas and different kinds of candidates into our electoral system.
Jewish tradition recognizes the distorting effect that money can have on a leader’s ability to govern fairly. Deuteronomy 16 commands, "You shall not judge unfairly: you shall know no partiality; you shall not take gifts, for gifts blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just.” Talmud Tractate Kethuboth notes, “As soon as a man receives a gift from another he becomes so well disposed towards him that he becomes like his own person, and no man sees himself in the wrong.” In a modern democracy, it is still necessary for elected officials to be accountable to all citizens, not just wealthy and powerful moneyed interests.
Urge your Senators and your Representative to support legislation that would establish public financing for Congressional elections, one important way to limit the corrupting effects of money in politics. The Capitol Switchboard can be reached at 202.224.3121, or you can send an e-mail by entering your zip code below. For more information, please contact Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Rachel Chung at 202.387.2800.