-By Alan Simpson
May 5, 2011- Memo to George Will: I was there.
I was proud to testify at the April 12 hearing on Sen. Dick Durbin’s campaign finance bill about which Will wrote last week . I spoke in support of reform that has everything to do with values he has long espoused: free speech, citizen participation and accountable government.
Will was correct that only Democratic members of the Senate attended the hearing. But I am not alone. Former Senate colleagues who also support this long-overdue reform include Republicans Warren Rudman, Bill Cohen, Bill Brock and Frank Murkowski, as well as dozens of other former senators, representatives and governors from our side of the aisle. In fact, we owe the concept of publicly funded elections to a great Republican president, Teddy Roosevelt, who proposed a similar reform in his 1905 State of the Union address.
Yes, Durbin’s bill has won more support from Democrats than Republicans in Congress in recent years, and frankly that makes me sad. The Republican Party I represented proudly for 18 years did not shy away from taking on special-interest money when it conflicted with constituents’ needs. And Tea Party adherents express a healthy indignation at what they and millions of others perceive is a government captured by and beholden to wealthy interests.
The real question, however, is not who but why. Why should Republicans in Congress support a campaign finance overhaul that would replace large donations from a tiny sliver of Americans with broad-based small donations and matching public funds?
To answer, I’ll borrow three values that Will holds dear:
First, the First Amendment. America’s Founders were committed to a wide-open public forum in which all voices and perspectives could have a chance of being heard. Today, the Supreme Court passionately defends the rights of a wealthy few to speak — and I say let ’em speak — but seems oddly uninterested in allowing ordinary Americans the same opportunity.
Voluntary public funding of elections solves the free speech “problem” with more speech instead of more regulation: by giving qualified candidates who show broad-based constituent support enough matching public funds to mount a credible campaign.