Every Voice Center | The Solution
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The Solution

PRINCIPLES OF REFORM

American democracy is based on the ideal of one person, one vote. But it’s harder and harder for that promise to be met with a political system increasingly dominated by millionaires, billionaires, lobbyists, and big money interest groups. This current system creates a political inequality that skews public policy toward those able to write big checks and away from ordinary Americans. The increasing reliance on large financial backers creates increased opportunities for corruption.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and with your help, we can change it. We can increase political participation and raise the voices of everyday people in politics through various forms of public financing that have worked in cities and states across the country.

THE PRINCIPLES FOR CREATING A PEOPLE-POWERED CAMPAIGN FINANCE SYSTEM:

They empower ordinary Americans.

These systems give ordinary Americans a more robust voice in the political process by incentivizing candidates to rely on a broad base of small donations to receive public funds.

They increase political participation

Public financing programs encourage candidates to build a large grassroots base of supporters and bring more people into the political process.

They reduce the influence of big donors

With public financing systems, candidates can focus on their constituents and small donor base, instead of relying on the big donors and deep pocket interests that usually fund campaigns.

Americans want—and deserve—a government that’s truly of, by, and for the people. One in which the men and women they elect to Congress are free to do what’s best for their constituents and their country, what founding father James Madison called a government “dependent on the people alone.” Unfortunately, today, the voices of everyday Americans aren’t being heard because big money dominates the financing of campaigns. Big money campaign donors fill the bank accounts of candidates from both parties, fund super PACs, and hire lobbyists to bend policy in their direction. We must break the dependence on big money so that Congress can focus on the people’s priorities.

We must return our government to one that is of, by, and for the people, not of, by, and for the big money donors. There are two bills currently in Congress that best embody the principles above. They are the Government By the People Act in the U.S. House and the Fair Elections Now Act in the U.S. Senate.

People Act and the Fair Elections Now Act, two bills currently pending in Congress that would amplify the voices of everyday Americans. Here’s how they would work.

POLITICAL WORK

Our partners at Every Voice are building the political power necessary to win comprehensive reforms of the way our elections are financed. Learn more at http://www.everyvoice.org.

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AMERICAN DEMOCRACY IS BASED ON THE IDEAL OF ONE PERSON, ONE VOTE.
THE GOVERNMENT BY THE PEOPLE ACT
Empower Everyday Americans to Participate

Provide everyday Americans with a $25 refundable My Voice tax credit to help spur small-dollar contributions to candidates for Congressional office. With Americans newly empowered to participate in campaign giving, candidates will be able to re-engage with everyday voters, improving our representative democracy and reducing Congress’ dependence on big money interests.

Amplify the Voice of Everyday Americans

Establish a Freedom from Influence Fund to multiply the impact of small-dollar donations ($150 or less). Everyday Americans will have their small-dollar contributions matched if they give to a Congressional candidate who foregoes traditional PAC money and focuses on earning broad-based support from small-dollar donors. That turns a $50 contribution into a $350 contribution – matched at a rate of $6 to $1. For those candidates who agree to take only small-dollar donations, the $50 contribution can become a $500 contribution – matched at a rate of $9 to $1.

Fight Back Against Big Money Special Interests

Prevent super PACs and dark money interests from drowning out the voice of everyday Americans. In the wake of the Citizens United decision, unlimited outside spending has monopolized the airwaves in the final weeks of elections. Citizen-funded candidates who are able to raise at least $50,000 in additional small-dollar donations within the 60-day “home stretch” of the general election would be eligible for additional resources to help break this monopoly.

THE FAIR ELECTIONS NOW ACT
EMPOWER EVERYDAY AMERICANS TO PARTICIPATE

Provide everyday Americans with a $25 refundable My Voice tax credit to help spur small-dollar contributions to candidates for Congressional office. With Americans newly empowered to participate in campaign giving, candidates will be able to re-engage with everyday voters, improving our representative democracy and reducing Congress’ dependence on big money interests.

AMPLIFY THE VOICES OF EVERYDAY AMERICANS

For the primary, participants would receive a base grant that would vary in amount based on the population of the state that the candidate seeks to represent. Participants would also receive a 6-to-1 match for small dollar donations up to a defined matching cap. After reaching that cap, the candidate could raise an unlimited amount of unmatched $150 contributions if needed to compete against high-spending opponents.

For the general election, qualified candidates would receive an additional grant, small-dollar matching, and media vouchers for television advertising. The candidate could continue to raise an unlimited amount of $150 contributions if needed.

BROAD PUBLIC SUPPORT

To participate, candidates would first need to prove their viability by raising a minimum number and minimum dollar amount of small-dollar qualifying contributions from in-state donors. Once a candidate qualifies, that candidate must limit the amount raised from each donor to $150 per election.

WORKING IN THE STATES

Whether it’s called Clean Elections, Voter-Owned Elections, or Fair Elections—similar systems have been working for years in cities and states across the country. They’ve opened the door for candidates without access to cash to run for office, given voters a bigger voice, and allowed politicians to work in the best interests of their constituents, not campaign donors.

In Connecticut: Eighty-four percent of officials elected in 2014 ran under the state’s Citizens’ Election public financing program, including all six statewide winners. Under the system, candidates who collect a large number of small contributions receive a grant to fund their campaigns. It was passed by the legislature and signed by former Gov. Jodi Rell (R) in 2004 after a spate of corruption scandals. Since the program first became available in 2008, the state has passed numerous policies to benefit everyday people, including mandatory paid sick days, increased minimum wage, and an Earned Income Tax Credit.

And, importantly, it has changed the way lawmakers do their job and allowed them to spend more time with their constituents. “Before public financing, during the session…there were ‘ shakedowns’ where lobbyists and corporate sponsors had events and you as a legislator had to go,” one lawmaker said. “That’s no longer a part of the reality.” Another lawmaker said, “I announced my reelection bid in February and by April, I was done fundraising. So, from April to November, I could focus only on talking to constituents. Without public financing, I would have been fundraising through that entire period.”

In Maine: A majority of winning legislative candidates participated in the state’s Clean Elections program in 2014, even after a Supreme Court decision to weaken the system and blocked legislative attempts to modernize it. Maine Clean Elections has allowed a broad, more diverse group of candidates to run for office. State Rep. Diane Russell, who worked at a convenience store when deciding to run, has said, “thanks to public financing, a gal who takes cash for the convenience store for selling sandwiches can actually talk about the stories that she’s learned from behind the counter.”

This November, Maine voters will have the opportunity to improve the system through the ballot initiative process.

To learn more about the role of small donors in the 2014 election, check out our report.

In New York City: It’s not a stretch to say Mayor Bill De Blasio’s primary election victory was due to the city’s popular matching funds program. The program has also broadened the types of people participating in the program. Our analysis of 2009 elections in the city found that donors giving $10 or less—donations that become as much as $70 after they’re matched—live in neighborhoods that are more racially diverse than the city as a whole. And, according to Brennan Center analysis, “small donors to 2009 City Council candidates came from a much broader array of city neighborhoods than did the city’s small donors to 2010 State Assembly candidates.”

It doesn’t have to be this way.  Make an impact today.

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