Roundtable discussion takes on campaign finance reform issue
NASHUA — Finding a way to keep big money from influencing Washington is an uphill battle, but two members of the U.S. Congress believe they may have found a way to at least address the matter.
"This is a huge problem," Congressman John Sarbanes of Maryland said while visiting Nashua on Tuesday. "In 1982, a member of Congress observed that when Political Action Committees make contributions on the hill, they are expecting something other than good government."
Sarbanes was the guest speaker at a roundtable discussion on campaign finance reform hosted by Congresswoman Annie Kuster Tuesday at the Nashua Teachers Union office.
On the fourth anniversary since the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, Sarbanes highlighted his Government by the People Act, a proposed bill that would bring further reforms to America's campaign finance laws.
"I think we have an opportunity. It is not something that will happen overnight, and it is going to be hard to do," he said, adding people are cynical and disgusted with the influence of big money in politics.
Big money from Wall Street, along with the oil and gas industry, is getting in the way of common sense initiatives that would improve the budget, jobs, environment and more, Sarbanes said.
"It leaves the concerns of everyday Americans behind when that happens," he added.
Sarbanes is proposing a Government by the People Act that would serve as a comprehensive campaign finance reform package designed to combat the influence of concentrated money in politics and allow American's voices to be heard.
Under the proposal, which is being co-sponsored by Kuster, Americans would be encouraged to participate by receiving a $25 tax credit when making small-dollar contributions to Congressional candidates.
This provision would promote donations through sincere grassroot campaign initiatives, according to Kuster.
"Knowing that I believed in campaign finance reform … I chose to run a very grassroots campaign with 30,000 donors and an average contribution of $55," said Kuster. "It is liberating to be able to say that I may or may not be with you. I can say, 'you don't own me,' and nobody does."
In addition, the bill would establish a Freedom from Influence Fund to multiply the impact of smaller contributions — $150 or less — that could be matched provided they forgo traditional PAC money and focus on earning broad-based support from smaller donors.
Furthermore, the bill would assist in providing additional resources for candidates that are able to raise at least $50,000 in additional small-dollar donations within the last 60 days of the general election.
This portion of the bill is critical, said Kuster, explaining it is impossible for small-donor campaigns to compete with opposing television ads one year before the election, or a slew of them weeks before the election.
"But, that is what we are up against," she said. "What we have in place now is good, but it just doesn't go far enough."
Sarbanes' proposal will offer another alternative for candidates, and also enable local voters to be heard — regardless of how much they are able to donate, he said.
Mark King, president of the Nashua Public Library Union, Local 4831, participated in Tuesday's roundtable discussion, praising the proposed bill. Money often equates to power, and some of the influential money in New Hampshire comes from out of state, according to King.
"That is not how democracy is suppose to work. How do we know that they are looking out for the good of the Granite State?" asked King.