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Wednesday, 25 August 2010 11:11

Fair Elections Now Act (FENA) makes progress in the House

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At the state level, Clean Elections is coming under attack. Following its ruling on Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, which opened the floodgates for direct corporate spending on elections, the Supreme Court issued an order stopping the Arizona Clean Elections program from providing fair play funding to its participating Clean candidates. These fair play funds kick in when an unclean opponent spends more than a threshold established by state law. Fair play funds are intended to permit the Clean candidate to remain competitive in the face of extravagant spending by the opposition. The fact of a threshold and fair play funds are thought by some to present a "chilling effect" on the 1st amendment rights of wealthy or heavily financed opponents of Clean candidates. SCOTUS is sufficiently concerned about the 1st amendment crisis presented by this ten year old and very popular program that they issued a restraining order in the middle of the 2010 primary election campaign, potentially stopping public funds to several candidates who may need them. This is expected to have disastrous effects for the Clean candidates, much to the delight of the unclean.

Unlike the Clean Elections process used in Arizona, Maine and other states, the FENA model does not include a threshold for issuing fair play funds, and therefore should not be affected by the Arizona Clean Elections case.  FENA instead permits candidates who participate in public financing to raise unlimited funds in small donations. A part of these donations are matched with public money. No doubt there will be lawsuits challenging the FENA model as well, should it ever be enacted into law.

The house debate and vote on the FENA legislation should be interesting. What comes in the aftermath - even if it passes - may be underwhelming, as there is surely little hope of it gaining traction in the Senate, although there are 27 sponsors even there (no Republicans, of course).{jcomments on}

Last modified on Saturday, 28 August 2010 10:22

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