H.R. 20 FAQ

October 7, 2014

What do candidates need to do in order to participate?
Candidates must demonstrate significant support by raising at least $50,000 from at least 1000 residents of their home state.  Then, they need to agree that they won’t accept any contribution more than $1000 from anyone (the current legal limit is $2600 for candidates who don’t participate) and abide by strict limits on self-financing.

What incentives to candidates have to limit the size of the contributions they receive?
Participating candidates have donations from small donors (who give up to $150) matched at a rate of 6:1.  So, a candidate would receive a total of $1050 for every $150 donor they identify ($150 from the donor and $900 from the match).

What about candidates who want to only accept contributions up to $150, completely reject large donations, and take no money from PACs?
Those candidates would get a 50% bonus on their matching funds, so in most cases they’d receive a 9:1 match. 

What about races targeted by the SuperPACs?  Is that enough?
For the handful of very competitive House races that are targeted by SuperPACs each election cycle, candidates could receive an enhanced match of 50% if they can demonstrate significant grassroots support and agree not to carryover any funds into future elections.  This provision should mean that even in the most contested races, candidates who rely upon small donations could remain financially competitive with candidates backed by deep pockets.

What incentives do citizens have to participate?
Donations up to $50 receive a tax credit up to $25.  They’ll know they won’t be donating their hard earned money to candidates who are also taking big money from big donors – a citizen who gives $150 knows that their donation will matter just as much to a candidate as the maximum $1000 they can accept from a fat cat. And small donors will find new, different candidates running under the system who are more responsive to their concerns. 

How much would HR 20 cost?
The Congressional Budget Office has not yet produced an estimate, and it will inevitably depend upon how many candidates and citizens choose to participate in the program.  However, past estimates for programs to fully fund federal campaigns with public funds have ranged from $5-$10 per taxpayer per year.  We’d more than recoup that by closing even one tax loophole for big business.  For instance, off-shore tax havens cost the average American taxpayer $1200 a year in lost revenue to the government and U.S. corporations dodge a total of $90 billion a year in income taxes.

What incentives do taxpayers have to fund this program?
All citizens would benefit from having a government that was accountable to ordinary people instead of big donors, but the groups that would benefit the most are those that have been excluded from our current political process. Small dollar donors are more representative of the total electorate than big money donors. Amplifying the impact of small donations makes candidates more responsive to everyday Americans and helps to put a stop to preferential treatment for those with deep pockets.

Would HR 20 advantage one particular party, or incumbents more than challengers?
Candidates of every party have demonstrated strong ability to raise funds from small donors, as have both incumbents and challengers.  Under the new system, grassroots candidates with strong ties to their community will fare better than they do now.  States with public financing systems such as Maine, Arizona, and Connecticut have seen robust participation by candidates of both major parties, and a reduction in the number of uncontested races.

Would HR 20 end Citizens United v FEC?
Passing HR20 would not reverse the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. It would, however, significantly reduce its harmful effects by ensuring that grassroots candidates could serve as a viable alternative to candidates backed by big money.  And, even if we succeed in overturning Citizens United, it will still be important to encourage small donors to get involved in our elections process so the Government By the People Act is an important step in building a more robust democracy.

How do we know the Roberts Court won’t just strike down the Government by the People Act?
There is nothing in the Government By the People Act that is at all contrary to any ruling by the Supreme Court.  While the Roberts Court has been very active in throwing out even those campaign finance reforms that had been upheld by previous Courts, it would have to completely reinvent existing Court doctrine to find any fault with HR 20.

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