Cleaning up our campaign finances

U.S. Sen. Angus King, Special to The County
8 years ago

     Here in Maine, we know a thing or two about how democracy is supposed to work. Our strong tradition of holding town meetings, which dates back to before we were even a state, allows each of us the chance to ask questions about our government, vote on the most important matters before the town, and to hear and know those who agree and disagree with us.

     When the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville came to America in the 1830s to gather the material for his book, Democracy in America, he was very taken with town meetings. Tocqueville thought they were part of the genius of America because they served as “schools of democracy,” to teach citizens how to govern themselves and demand accountability from their officials.

     The town meeting is democracy at its finest. Anyone can speak, and anyone can try to influence the outcome of the vote. But you can’t go to a town meeting with a bag over your head. You have to let people know who you are. That’s part of the information we all need in order to assess the messages being delivered to us.

     Unfortunately, we have lost this sort of knowledge and accountability in our federal elections today. Campaigns for office are no longer fought out by the candidates — they are fought by outside groups on both sides of the aisle, and the candidates are almost a second thought at this point. Much of the time, we don’t even know who these outside groups represent. And make no mistake, this is a threat to our democracy.

     To address this systemic problem, my Senate colleagues and I are working on the We the People Act to take back our elections from shadowy outside groups and special interests.

     One provision that I authored in the bill is based on my Real Time Transparency Act. In today’s digital world, people deserve real time information about who is trying to influence elections. And my provision would make sure that when any candidate receives $1,000 or more from any person or entity, the candidate would have to report that donation electronically to the Federal Election Commission within 48 hours. Within 48 hours of each time the candidate hit a further $1,000 threshold from that donor, the FEC would receive another report.

     Fairness and transparency in our elections are vital to the health and future of our democracy. Our current elections and campaigns are a threat to American democracy, and they betray the vision of the geniuses who founded this country.

     That’s why I am going to keep at this effort to clean up our campaigns, because democracy requires a campaign process as fair and open as a Maine town meeting.