Citizen-funded elections are a practical, proven reform that puts voters in control of democracy instead of big political donors.
Rather than being forced to rely on special interest donors to pay for their campaigns, candidates have the opportunity to raise small donations from ordinary, hardworking Americans to qualify for public funding, which ends their reliance on special interest campaign cash.
Being freed from the money chase means candidates and officials have more time to spend with constituents, talking about the issues that matter to them. When they enter office, they can consider legislation on its merits without worrying about whether they are pleasing donors and lobbyists. Citizen-funded elections would return our government to one that is of, by, and for the people—not bought and paid for by special interests.
There are several types of citizen-funded elections, but all share the common goal of offsetting the big money flood in elections with small-donor contributions. Some plans offer tax refunds and/or deductions to individuals who make small political contributions. Others offer public funding through block grants to candidates who agree to accept only small contributions.
All of these proposals would be a huge improvement on our current system of special-interest funded elections, where only a tiny percentage of the population is involved. Increasing the number of small donors in politics would allow candidates to run and win without big money interests, increasing their responsiveness to average citizen concerns and facilitating a more popular government.
This should then in turn get more voters re-engaged and further fuel a dynamic democracy.
In Arizona, for example, where these elections were implemented in 2000, voter turnout increased 20% between the 1996 and 2004 presidential elections.
Connecticut, Maine, and North Carolina also use citizen-funded election systems for at least some of their elections with great success. A 2013 report by Demos on Connecticut’s public financing system found that public financing:
- Allows legislators to spend more time interacting with constituents
- Increases the number of donor and reduces the influence of lobbyists
- Helps more people run for office
- Helps a more diverse set of candidates get elected
- Allows for a more substantive legislative process
- Leads to policies more aligned with the public’s preferences and the needs of the people
Public financing will likely result in net savings by reducing the waste that results from inappropriate giveaways to big campaign contributors. It can also reduce waste by allowing elected officials to focus more on running government rather than raising money.
Such a program will only cost about $4 per voting-age citizen per year. That’s approximately 1/25 of 1% of the Federal budget, a sum that will likely be saved many times over through cleaner and more efficient government.
Full public financing makes elections fair by leveling the playing field, so elections are decided on the merits of the candidates and their ideas, not their fundraising abilities. In 2006, nearly 94 percent of the candidates for U.S. Congress who spent the most money also won their races.
Citizen-funded elections help break down the barriers to participating in our democracy, creating a government that works better for us. Regular people—not just those connected to wealthy donors—would have a chance to run and win.
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