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Albuquerque – With 2016 candidates already raising record amounts from large donors for their campaigns, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich joined Sen. Durbin of Illinois to introduce legislation today that would empower small donors in our elections. The Fair Elections Now Act would enable more Americans to participate in the electoral process by establishing a $25 “my voice” refundable tax credit. Small contributions of less than $150 would then be matched with limited public funds at a rate of six-to-one for Senate candidates that agree to turn down big money, amplifying the voices of small donors.
“The Fair Elections Now Act would put everyday people back in charge of elections,” said Sean Foran, NMPIRG Director. “Imagine if candidates could fund their campaigns by appealing to the people they’re seeking to represent instead of dialing for dollars in search of a few big checks. That’s what this critical legislation does. We applaud Senators Udall and Heinrich for signing on as original cosponsors.”
"I’m leading the push to amend the Constitution and overturn Citizens United because we have to stop big money from undermining elections and our democracy. We can take action in the meantime by ensuring small donors have a real voice in today’s congressional campaigns,” New Mexico Senator Tom Udall said. “The Fair Elections Now Act would elevate the role of small donors, amplifying New Mexicans' voices and ensuring that congressional candidates are listening to their concerns on the campaign trail — rather than catering to billionaires with huge checkbooks.”
The Fair Elections Now Act has 17 cosponsors and has been endorsed by over 40 organizations, ranging from environmental groups to small business and faith groups. Congressman John Sarbanes has introduced similar legislation for House races called the Government by the People Act, which has 148 cosponsors.
The track record of small donor empowerment programs is impressive. Under a similar program established in New York City, participating City Council candidates in the most recent election received 61 percent of their contributions from small donations and matching funds. That year, 92 percent of candidates running in the primary participated in the program.
Here in New Mexico similar legislation is being considered in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Las Cruces as a means of updating current public finance systems. In 2013, Senator Peter Wirth introduced a similar bill to fix the state public financing system that passed the Senate 33-7 and the House of Representatives 68-0. Despite overwhelming bipartisanship support it was eventually vetoed by Governor Martinez due to concerns of constitutionality that have since been resolved.
A recent NY Times/CBS poll found that 85 percent of Americans think the system for funding campaigns needs “fundamental changes” or that “we need to totally rebuild it.”
“Americans of all political stripes understand that their voices are being drowned out by a handful of megadonors and special interests. It’s time to start talking solutions. The Fair Elections Now Act, as well as similar proposals at the local and state level, would be game changers that put everyday New Mexicans back in the driver seat of our democracy. With the leadership of Senators Udall and Heinrich, New Mexico is poised to be a leader in reinvigorating our democracy,” concluded Foran.
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