“Founders” rally for change in election finance

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Led by actors dressed as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross, two good-government groups today sought to draw attention to legislation that would grant public funding to candidates who promise to accept only small donations from supporters.

Members of Public Campaign and of Common Cause assembled the actors dressed in colonial garb to highlight what they called “dependence day” – the rush by lawmakers to raise money before the fundraising quarter ends at midnight on June 30. That deadline prompted 87 political fundraisers in Washington alone today, they said.

The groups back the proposed Fair Elections Now Act, which would build on legislation approved in the House last week to make it clear how much companies, unions and other groups spend on independent campaign ads made legal by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling .

The proposed bill already has bipartisan support from 156 House members, and is backed by 22 senators, according to Nick Nyhart, chief executive of Public Campaign. The bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. John Larson of Connecticut and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, however, has not been a priority for Congressional leadership; no committee hearings have even been scheduled in the House or Senate.

The parade of Founding Fathers and Betsy Ross stopped at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Podesta Group lobbying firm, and the Capitol Hill Club asking lobbyists, members of Congress and passers-by to support the legislation. It would grant public funding to candidates who agree to limit the size of the donations they accept, as long as they raise a certain level of donations from their local communities. The bill would provide a four-to-one match for each small donation.

The group was not granted entry to any of the offices it visited — except for a brief foray into the Podesta Group’s lobby — and tried to make its message heard on the streets outside.

Outside the Podesta Group, which counts BP as one of its most prominent clients, the actors declared Tony Podesta to be the “most powerful man in Washington,” to which one of the founding fathers lamented, “I used to be the most powerful man in Washington.”

The actor playing Thomas Jefferson declared, “230 years ago brave patriots across our 13 original colonies rose up to throw off the yoke of British tyranny. Today, however, we must throw off the yoke of British Petroleum — those other merchants of influence who have befouled our fair democracy.”

Outside the Capitol Hill Club, said to be the site of more than a dozen Republican fundraisers today, the actors swarmed Rep. Gregg Harper of Mississippi and Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, both Republicans, and asked them to support the bill.

Opponents of the Fair Elections Now Act, such as Sean Parnell of the Center for Competitive Politics, have denounced the measure as a “welfare for politicians program.”

Nick Nyhart, President and CEO of Public Campaign, explained the idea behind the event, telling the Center, “people know there is a crooked system in D.C. but they don’t know there’s a chance to change it.”

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