Two leading groups pushing for the public financing of elections have begun a multi-million dollar campaign to spur Congress to move forward on proposed legislation that aims to curb the overwhelming influence of money in politics. Common Cause and Public Campaign will commit at least $8 million to jointly launch the Campaign for Fair Elections, which this week begins its first slate of television ads targeting Democrats who have not yet pledged support for the Fair Elections Now Act. Four local television markets will be targeted — Seattle, Denver, Washington, D.C., and Tallahassee — in addition to broadcasting their message on national cable.

“We’ll draw it out until we win,” said David Donnelly, the campaign manager for the Campaign for Fair Elections. “We will continue the advertising, continue the grassroots organizing, continue the targeting and creative action.

“This is a matter that members of Congress need to deal with in their own elections, and if they see the benefit both on policy grounds as well as political grounds, then they’ll do it,” Donnelly said. “That’s really the debate we’re having.”

Those targeted by the group are mainly Democrats who have not yet signed on in support of the bill, including Allen Boyd of Florida, Ed Perlmutter and Diana DeGette of Colorado, and Washington Reps. Brian Baird , Rick Larsen, Jay Inslee and Norm Dicks.

The Associated Press reports:

The legislation would give candidates $4 of public financing for every $1 dollar raised through contributions of $100 or less. Participation would be voluntary, and candidates could opt out from the system.

Proponents estimate the public infusion of money would cost up to $1.8 billion for every two-year election cycle. David Donnelly, the campaign manager for the Campaign for Fair Elections, said one way to pay for the cost would be with a tax or fee on large government contractors.

Advocates hope the matching money would be so attractive that it would discourage politicians from having to chase big financial contributions from special interest donors.

Currently the legislation has gained momentum with 157 co-sponsors in the House, but is lacking support in the Senate with only 23 members on board. Common Cause President Bob Edgar claims to have received assurance, both public and private, that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will bring the bill to the floor, while the second-ranking Democrat, Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is a lead sponsor in the Senate.

“[He] believes that a very strong House vote will give momentum for the Senators to come and step forward on this bill,” Edgar said of Durbin.

“We’d like to really challenge the White House to come out strong on the reform issue,” he said. “We think it’s in their best interest to do it and do it aggressively. It’s been a hard message; the President has been bumping up against the oil spill and economic issues and jobs issues and other things, but we think the President is making a big mistake if he doesn’t come out with a strong reform push.”

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