To combat the corrosive impact of money on politics, Connecticut’s congressional representatives said Monday they want to see public financing of federal campaigns.
“The current system is a built-in incumbent protection benefit,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, a Cheshire Democrat whose 5th District includes New Britain, Plainville and Plymouth.
One of the proposal’s champions – U.S. Rep. John Larson, an East Hartford Democrat whose 1st District includes Bristol – said the measure is so important that he hopes to push it through the House before it adjourns in August.
“We have a chance, a good chance, to fix the system this year,” said Bob Edgar, who heads Common Cause, a group that has long pushed for reform of a system it says gives too much power to wealthy donors and special interests.
The plan calls for congressional candidates to raise a large number of small campaign donations in order to qualify for federal funding that would bring them as much as the average national congressional campaign forked over.
Appearing with supporters at a press conference at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, Larson said the money necessary to fund the plan could come from selling airwave rights, but he’s open to other ideas.
Larson, who has raised far more campaign cash than his challengers for years, said that Connecticut’s state campaign finance program can be “a model” for the nation.
“States have shown overwhelming success in reducing the influence of big donors” when they’ve adopted campaign finance, Larson said.
“Lawmakers are able to tend to the business of their constituents rather than spending their time dialing for dollars. It is time to bring real change to Washington,” Larson said.
With Larson’s leadership post as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Murphy said, he is optimistic that Congress can follow Connecticut’s lead in overhauling the way it runs campaigns.
The Fair Elections Now Act that all of Connecticut’s members of Congress have endorsed “would not only level the playing field for candidates of lower economic status; it would also limit the influence of large contributors, corporations, and special interest groups in elections, and help restore the integrity and transparency of the entire process,” Murphy said.
Murphy’s sole challenger, Republican Justin Bernier of Farmington, called on the Democratic incumbent to abide by its fund-raising terms immediately rather than waiting for legislation.
Murphy said he hadn’t seen Bernier’s letter, but had no intention of taking up the challenge.
Murphy said there is nothing wrong with playing by the existing rules while strongly urging their reform.
Larson said candidates can’t endanger their own reelection because the Democratic majority is required to have a shot at getting the badly needed reform.
Edgar said the public suffers from the existing system that depends on large donations from wealthy individuals and political action committees.
He pointed out that Wall Street “spent over a billion dollars” to dole out cash and pay lobbyists in the nation’s capital “and kept Congress and regulators at bay, until it was too late.”
Edgar said Congress needs to spend its time “working on solutions to the country’s problems,” not scurrying after donations for the next campaign.
For more information, please see www.fairelectionsnow.org.
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