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Bipartisan Group Backs Public Financing

Campaign finance reform backers unveiled their latest proposal Tuesday to establish a national public financing program for House and Senate campaigns, calling the plan the next step in an effort to curb lobbyist influence on Capitol Hill.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who sponsored the Fair Elections Now Act along with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), also pitched the proposal as an effort to level the economic playing field, arguing that the need to raise funds results in candidates who are “far too reliant on an elite group of people.”

“The fact is that [donors] live at a different level ... than most people who vote for me,” Durbin said.

Candidates who opted to enroll in the public financing plan would be restricted from raising more than $200 per donor in both the primary and general elections, significantly less than the $4,800 per donor limits under existing law.

To make up for the lower limits, the public financing option would provide candidates with matching funds equal to four times each donation of $100 or less.

The proposal would also ban political action committees from contributing or bundling funds for participants, or from hosting fundraising events.

In addition, participants who maintain leadership PACs would also be prohibited from accepting donations of more than $100.

Although a similar House measure failed to gain traction in the previous Congress, Durbin expressed confidence the bill could garner support. “It is not out of the question,” he said.

Government reform advocates who praised the measure Tuesday suggested that public outrage over lingering economic turmoil could provide needed momentum.

“The Washington influence culture of special interests, lobbyists and campaign contributions have combined repeatedly to exercise undue influence over government decisions, at the great expense of the American people,” Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer wrote Tuesday in a letter to the Senators.

“It is widely recognized ... that the absence of effective regulation of our financial institutions played a key role in triggering the current financial and economic crisis,” Wertheimer continued. “A major factor in the absence of such effective regulation, no doubt, was the $1.5 billion in contributions given in the past decade by financial institutions to federal candidates and their political parties.”

Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), who will sponsor the House version of the bill along with Reps. Walter Jones Jr. (R-N.C.), Todd Platts (R-Pa.) and Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), said the House Administration Committee will hold a hearing on the bill following the Easter recess.

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