The US Supreme Court ruling in the case of Citizens United has opened the floodgates to money in US politics, since it ruled against limiting the amount of money that private groups can spend on elections. There are estimates that the 2016 election will see about $10 billion spent, an obscene amount. The influence of money has always been large but now it is so massive and the Federal Election Commission is so dysfunctional that the head of the FEC has pretty much thrown her hands up in the air and said that she cannot control the abuses anymore.
Since the amount of money in elections cannot be limited, resulting in the present situation where billionaires are buying up candidates, some reformers are seeking to at least partly democratize the process, by trying to balance the large amounts given by a few with a lot of small amounts given by the many.
Congressperson John Sarbanes has introduced a bill for just such a plan that has three parts.
• Everyone gets $25 to donate to candidates
All voters receive $25 per year to give to political campaigns, provided in the form of a refundable tax credit equal to half of donations up to $50. (For instance, if you donate $30 to a candidate, you get $15 of that back; to get the full $25 you have to donate $50.)
• 6 to 1 matching funds (at least) for small donors
Donations up to $150 to qualifying House and Senate candidates are matched 6 to 1 with public money. In other words, if your next door neighbor is running for Congress and you give her $50, she’ll get another $300, making $350 total.
And donations are matched 9 to 1 for candidates who completely renounce big money and take only donations of $150 or less. So if your neighbor is willing to do that, your $50 donation would turn into $500 total for her. (Moreover, if you use your $25 tax credit, that $500 she received would only cost you $25 total.)
• Help for candidates facing an onslaught of SuperPAC money, dark money, etc.
Candidates would be eligible for enhanced matching funds in the last 60 days before an election, with incentives so they would only access the funds if it’s a particularly high-cost race.
Jon Schwarz interviewed Sarbanes about his plan that has 160 so-sponsors.