Sen. Durbin Offers Bill to Fight Big Money in Elections by Amplifying Voices of Small Donors

Media Contacts
Abe Scarr

State Director, Illinois PIRG; Energy and Utilities Program Director, PIRG

Illinois PIRG

With 2016 candidates already raising record amounts from large donors for their campaigns, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin introduced legislation today that would empower small donors in our elections. The Fair Elections Now Act would enable more Americans to participate in the electoral process by establishing a $25 “my voice” refundable tax credit. Small contributions of less than $150 would then be matched with limited public funds at a rate of six-to-one for Senate candidates that agree to turn down big money, amplifying the voices of small donors.  

“The Fair Elections Now Act would put everyday people back in charge of elections,” said Abe Scarr, Illinois PIRG Director. “Imagine if candidates could fund their campaigns by appealing to the people they’re seeking to represent instead of dialing for dollars in search of a few big checks. That’s what this critical legislation does. We applaud Senator Durbin for sponsoring this important legislation.”

“Five years ago, the Citizens United ruling effectively gave corporations and the wealthy few a blank check to influence politics and politicians in our country,” said Senator Durbin. “Unless we curb the growing influence of big money in politics, our democracy is in serious trouble. I’m introducing the Fair Elections Now Act to ensure that our political system values the voices of everyday people, not just the people who write the biggest checks.”

The Fair Elections Now Act has 17 cosponsors and has been endorsed by over 40 organizations, ranging from environmental groups to small business and faith groups. Congressman John Sarbanes has introduced similar legislation for House races called the Government by the People Act, which has 148 cosponsors.

The track record of small donor empowerment programs is impressive. Under a similar program established in New York City, participating City Council candidates in the most recent election got 61 percent of their contributions from small donations and matching funds. That year, 92 percent of candidates running in the primary participated in the program.

The potential of small donor empowerment programs is one reason why other states and localities are considering adopting them:

  • The County Council in Montgomery County, Maryland, enacted a small donor program last year.
  • Chicago voters overwhelmingly approved an advisory ballot measure in February calling on the city council to create a small donor system.
  • This fall, voters in Seattle will have a chance to vote for small donor empowerment at the polls.
  • Nearly 250 local elected officials in eight states have endorsed small donor empowerment programs

A recent NY Times/CBS poll found that 85 percent of Americans think the system for funding campaigns needs ‘fundamental changes’ or that ‘we need to totally rebuild it.’

“Americans of all political stripes get that their voices are being drowned out by a handful of megadonors and special interests. It’s time to start talking solutions. The Fair Elections Now Act would be a game changer that would put everyday Americans back in the driver seat of our democracy,” concluded Scarr.

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Illinois PIRG 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.