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WASHINGTON – With 2016 candidates already raising record amounts from large donors for their campaigns, U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin introduced legislation today that would give new power to small donors in elections. The Fair Elections Now Act would provide an incentive for more Americans to participate in the electoral process by establishing a $25 “my voice” refundable tax credit. Contributions of less than $150 would be matched with limited public funds at a rate of six-to-one for Senate candidates who agree to turn down big money, amplifying the voices of small donors.
“The Fair Elections Now Act would put everyday people back in the driver’s seat of elections,” said Janet Domenitz, Executive Director of MASSPIRG. “The way campaigns are funded now, it’s like the millionaires took off in the getaway car. We applaud Massachusetts Senators Markey and Warren for signing on as original cosponsors.”
“Five years ago, the Citizens United ruling effectively gave corporations and the wealthy few a blank check to influence politics and politicians in our country,” said Senator Durbin, the bill’s author. “Unless we curb the growing influence of big money in politics, our democracy is in serious trouble. I’m introducing the Fair Elections Now Act to ensure that our political system values the voices of everyday people, not just the people who write the biggest checks.”
The Fair Elections Now Act has 16 cosponsors in the Senate and has been endorsed by over 40 organizations, ranging from environmental groups to small businesses and faith groups. Congressman John Sarbanes of Maryland has introduced similar legislation for House races called the Government by the People Act, which has 148 cosponsors, including every Massachusetts congressperson except for Richard Neal, Seth Moulton, and Bill Keating.
Small donor empowerment programs have a strong track record. Under such a program established in New York City, participating City Council candidates in the most recent election got 61 percent of their contributions from small donations and matching funds. That year, 92 percent of candidates running in the primary participated in the program.
Other states and localities which have passed, or are considering, such policies:
- The County Council in Montgomery County, Maryland, enacted a small donor program last year.
- Chicago voters overwhelmingly approved an advisory ballot measure in February calling on the city council to create a small donor system.
- In the fall of 2015, voters in Seattle will have a chance to vote for small donor empowerment at the polls.
- Nearly 250 local elected officials in eight states have endorsed small donor empowerment programs
A recent NY Times/CBS poll found that 85 percent of Americans think the system for funding campaigns needs ‘fundamental changes’ or that ‘we need to totally rebuild it.’
“Americans of all political stripes understand that their voices are being drowned out by a handful of megadonors and special interests. It’s time to start talking solutions. The Fair Elections Now Act won’t completely level the playing field, but it will get everyday Americans back in the game,” concluded Domenitz.
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MASSPIRG, the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, is a consumer advocacy organization that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.
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