Today at 9:30 a.m., the Committee on House Administration will hold a hearing on “American Confidence in Elections: Protecting Political Speech.” Stephen Spaulding, Common Cause Vice President for Policy & External Affairs, will be testifying. His testimony submitted in advance of the hearing discusses the myriad threats that undermine public confidence in our democracy and offered several solutions as well. He includes voter suppression and gerrymandering as hugely detrimental to public confidence and focuses his testimony on the corrosive influence of money in politics.
Spaulding points out the tiny percentage of Americans who fuel the billions of dollars flooding into our election system, buying undue influence and drowning out the voices of others.
This money is coming from a tiny and highly unrepresentative segment of the public. Our campaign finance system is dominated by the super wealthy, and Americans have good reason to think that their voices are being silenced as campaign funders purchase access and influence over the priorities and decisions of government. They have stood in the way to block or slow down progress on fixing the problems most Americans are facing, whether it be lowering prescription drug costs, protecting our families from gun violence, tackling the climate crisis, or making the economy work better for regular people.
His testimony stresses the staggering political spending totals and the shocking amount of which is undisclosed in the wake of several controversial campaign finance rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts. Spaulding emphasizes the vital importance of transparency to rebuild public confidence in our elections at a time when too many Americans feel that they are not being heard by elected officials.
Transparency in political spending is important for at least three reasons. First, disclosure protects voters’ right to know who is trying to influence their decision on Election Day. Voters can evaluate the merits of an appeal for their vote if they know who is speaking to them. Second, disclosure curbs corruption and its appearance, including the specter of undue influence over public policy. Third, disclosure is critical to the enforcement of our campaign finance laws.
Spaulding makes the point that disclosure alone is not enough and touts the effectiveness of voluntary small-donor based systems to help offset the unprecedented political spending today and to empower more people to participate in the political process and run for office.
He emphasizes that small-donor systems and effective disclosure laws enjoy broad bipartisan support outside of Washington, where many laws have passed and proven both popular and effective at the state and local level. He points to the fact that only repeated filibusters kept Congress from passing a sweeping set of reforms during the last Congress.
In contrast to those reforms, he criticized a GOP bill introduced during the last Congress.
These solutions stand in sharp contrast to the American Confidence in Elections (“ACE”) Act as introduced last Congress. The ACE Act would open the door to more secret money in our elections and further empower the wealthy few to spend even more money purchasing access and influence. Were it to become law, it would invite corruption and undermine confidence in elections.
The hearing will take place at 9:30 a.m. in room 1310 of the Longworth House Office Building.
To read Spaulding’s full written testimony to the Committee, click here.
To watch the hearing, “American Confidence in Elections: Protecting Political Speech,” on the Committee website, click here.