Senate debate demonstrates need for change
San Francisco, Sept. 9 – As the U.S. Senate debates a key measure to reduce the dominance of megadonors and Super PACs in our elections, today California leaders called for the end of big money in politics, and for new policies to increase the impact of small donors.
“Our democracy is supposed to be one person, one vote, and candidates should be thinking about their constituents, not out-of-district megadonors,” said Zach Weinstein, Campaign Organizer with CALPIRG. “That’s why we’re launching a new campaign to demonstrate the broad support for commonsense reforms to prevent our voices from getting drowned out by a wave of big-money spending.”
Yesterday, the Senate opened debate on a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates to big-money campaign cash. Passage of this constitutional amendment would allow limits to be set on large-dollar contributions and campaign spending.
Although a filibuster of the amendment is expected, consideration of the amendment is an important step in the fight to get big money out of politics. As part of that fight, CALPIRG, joined by a growing number of elected officials across the state, is launching a new campaign to push for solutions including amplifying the impact of small donors, which will give ordinary citizens a stronger voice.
“Dialing for big dollars shouldn’t be as important as actually listening to constituents and building their support,” said San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener, “Here in San Francisco we have been at the forefront of empowering small donors through campaign contribution limitations, matching funds and strong disclosure laws. The federal government needs to follow our lead to stop our elections from being swamped by big money donors.
Programs to empower small donors with tax credits and matching funds have proven successful at amplifying the voices of ordinary citizens, and reducing the influence of large donors. For example, in New York City’s 2013 city council campaigns, small donors were responsible for 61% of participating candidates’ contributions, when funds from a matching program are included. All but two winning candidates participated in the small donor program, showing that candidates are able to raise the money they need to win without looking for large-dollar contributions.
“This issue is a serious threat to our democracy, but there are real solutions out there,” said Sarah Swanbeck, Legislative Affairs Advocate for California Common Cause. “In the wake of recent Supreme Court decisions, we need policies that will help level the political playing field. Programs that encourage candidates to seek out many small dollar, in-district donors , rather than a few large private contributors, would force candidates to reach out to everyday voters and would help hold candidates accountable to their constituents, rather than powerful special interests.”
This past April, the Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC further decimated campaign finance. The decision struck down a federal contribution limit that, according to CALPIRG and Demos research, may lead to an additional billion dollars in big-donor campaign spending between now and 2020. This year’s Congressional elections are the first under the new rules.
“Without strong action, our elections will continue to become the playground of special interests, with ordinary citizens just an afterthought,” concluded Weinstein. “It’s time for a change.”
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CALPIRG, the California Public Interest Research Group, is a consumer group 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.