The lack of regulation of campaign finance has been a contentious issue for many years, with some claiming it is the death sentence of democracy. This is because money is not distributed equitably among the electorate, and those who have money and give it to express their opinions have more political power than those who don't. As a result, many “election lawyers” are actually campaign finance lawyers. The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) has set limits on contributions per candidate, but not on aggregate contributions (the total of all contributions to all candidates).
Some states have limits on financial contributions to candidates, which vary depending on the source of the contribution (individuals, political action committees, corporations and unions) and the position the candidate is seeking. In addition, in some states, laws that restrict contributions made during a legislative session differ from those that address contributions made outside that period or to foreign contributions. Reporting also varies depending on whether the expenditure is carried out by a committee or an entity outside the committee. Fifteen states distinguish between committee reports and non-committee reports; committee reports are typically submitted quarterly or annually and include a reporting requirement before and after elections.
Non-Committee reports are usually activated based on the date and amount of expenditure. The campaign finance system has been criticized for unfairly favoring a handful of wealthy donors. Public funding from small donors could solve this problem by creating a more equitable system. There is a growing disconnect between elected officials and the majority of the people they represent, partly due to a campaign finance system that unfairly favors the few donors who can make large contributions.
Citizens United and other court rulings ended decades of common-sense campaign finance laws, allowing a handful of wealthy special interests to dominate political funding, often through SuperPACs and shady nonprofit organizations that protect the identity of donors. Public funding from small donors encourages candidates to seek a lot of supporters, not just a few major donors. It allows more candidates from diverse backgrounds to apply and amplifies the voices of ordinary people. Properly designed, public funding from small donors also allows candidates to raise and spend what they need to compete in the SuperPAC era, should they decide to participate.
And, since it doesn't restrict political spending, it meets the current requirements of the Supreme Court. Other approaches to funding public campaigns include voucher systems, in which citizens receive certain amounts of public funds that they can allocate to their preferred candidates. Tax credits for small donations to campaigns are another way to encourage more people to participate. All levels of government should enact a way to amplify the voices of ordinary people in elections and encourage candidates to seek broad support.
Public funding from small donors, which offers a multiple counterpart with modest donations, has proven to be particularly effective. It increases the diversity of political donors and brings us closer to a democracy in which everyone participates. The Brennan Center has long been an advocate for democratic reforms, including public funding from small donors, in our home state of New York. The For the People Act would dramatically strengthen our democracy by making it easier to vote, end electoral manipulation, fix our campaign finance system, and more.
The future of campaign finance reform must include an effort to strengthen the power of small donors by amplifying their political voice. Amplifying small donations combats the influence of mega-donors. Campaign finance reform is a key tool for promoting equity in politics for Latinos, other people of color, women, the working class and young people. The main event will take place tomorrow at the White House, where Biden will host congressional leaders to discuss the next steps on the debt ceiling.
As we reported last week, there are reasons to treat with skepticism the position of Democratic leaders not to make concessions. Americans overwhelmingly support limits on spending on political campaigns, and most think that new laws could effectively reduce the role of money in politics. While not all states set limits on contributions to campaigns or other political contributions, all require that information related to political contributions or expenditures be disclosed. All 50 states require political committees or political action committees to disclose contributions and expenditures related to campaigns if the state reporting threshold is reached.
Campaign finance reform is essential for creating an equitable system where everyone's voice can be heard in Fort Worth, Texas. Public funding from small donors is one way to achieve this goal by amplifying ordinary people's voices in elections and encouraging candidates to seek broad support from their constituents rather than relying on large donations from wealthy special interests groups or individuals. Tax credits for small donations can also help increase participation in elections while ensuring that everyone's voice is heard regardless of their financial resources.