Commentary

Want to level the playing field for candidates? Pass H.R. 1., the voting rights bill, to fix our system | Opinion

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 18: The U.S Capitol Building is prepared for the inaugural ceremonies for President-elect Joe Biden as American flags are placed in the ground on the National Mall on January 18, 2021 in Washington, DC. The approximately 191,500 U.S. flags will cover part of the National Mall and will represent the American people who are unable to travel to Washington, DC for the inauguration. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

By Nancy Kleinberg

Do you feel you are not being heard and that your voice may not matter to politicians? Well, you may be right. Now, wealthy individuals, corporations, and huge political action committees (PACs) have far more influence and a much greater voice than ordinary citizens.

Why? Because they give vast amounts of money which buys them access, time and attention.

Our elected officials may want to listen to all their constituents equally, but our campaign finance system makes that nearly impossible.  Our elections cost millions, and the people, businesses ,and PACs with the most money get their voices and interests raised above that of everyday people.  If the average citizen gives $50 of their hard-earned dollars to a candidate, it will take twenty thousand more citizens  to equal one PAC giving one million dollars.

Instead, candidates and current elected officials concentrate their time on the person or group that gives them millions of dollars instead of small donations.

Our campaign finance system rewards candidates who focus on the interests of the wealthy few and the wealthy groups that propel them into office. They spend their time raising money from them and their lobbyists, which allows them little time to talk to their average constituents.

As GOP shifts strategy from election lawsuits to laws, voting rights advocates warn of plummeting participation

Moreover, their fundraising takes up an inordinate amount of their time.  It’s estimated that the average U.S. Senator spends more than half of their time on nothing but fundraising. That is four to six hours a day.

This is time they cannot spend educating themselves, considering and creating policy, and learning what their voters want.

So, if you feel disconnected and unheard, your feelings are justified. Our current system creates roadblocks instead of pathways for citizens’ voices to matter.

Not only does this harm our democracy, but it also favors the wealthiest among us and shuts out the desires of average Americans. It keeps elected officials in bubbles where they are not learning about your life and problems.

This system also favors incumbents with a large donor base and limits the opportunity for passionate people to run who are not themselves wealthy and do not have easily tapped wealthy friends and contacts.

The potential candidates are often considered not “viable,” which means powerful individuals think they cannot raise enough moneyThis hampers people who are more representative of our population to run for office, even if they would make exceptional candidates and elected officials.

It means that elected officials  are whiter, wealthier, and more likely to be men. Thus, the points of view of the majority are often not represented.

I have worked tirelessly to help support women, minorities, and people who come from the working class run for elected office.  However, they have  their work cut out for them. These candidates have to work twice as hard to raise money and support among institutional money.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if our election laws favored the most passionate, the most talented, and the most committed candidates who represented all the diverse groups that makeup America?  Wouldn’t our system be fairer if it did not totally tilt the field in favor of the well-funded candidates and instead empowered everyone to run for office?

It is different in almost every other country. Campaigns are limited to short periods and do not go on for years. Also, there are laws to keep political spending in check. Other countries give free airtime to political advertising, and countries such as the United Kingdom have limited spending per party in the year running up to the election.

Furthermore, all the money we spend does not translate into voter participation or engagement. Likely, it is the reverse as many citizens do not feel their vote matters and that big money is in charge.

In fact, among the oldest democracies, the U.S. ranks near the bottom.

What can we do? We need to even the playing field to make our democracy work for all of us. We MUST reform our campaign finance laws so your voice can be heard and to give the people’s candidates a fighting chance. How?

We must pass the For the People Act HR1/S1.

One of its provisions will amplify the voices of small donors by implementing small-dollar donor matching, which uses public funds to magnify small private contributions between 10 and 100 dollars.

If we pass HR1/S1 For the People Act, candidates from diverse backgrounds, younger candidates, and candidates more representative of our population would be encouraged to run. The system would support them and give them a fighting chance against more established, wealthy candidates backed by wealthy groups.

These changes are what our citizens are demanding, a political system that does not cater to wealthy donors but allows everyone to have a voice.

The U.S. Senate has the opportunity to pass H.R.1/S.1 For the People Act and allow for all our voices to be heard. Let your senators know you support this and want your voice heard in our democracy.

Nancy Kleinberg is an activist and a political donor who lives in Montgomery county.

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