California legislature opens door to citizen-funded elections

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Bill to lift ban on small donor public matching programs passes


SACRAMENTO, CA – On Wednesday, the California State Senate passed SB 1107, a bill to lift California’s ban on small donor empowerment programs, following passage in the State Assembly. Small donor empowerment programs provide limited public matching funds for small contributions to qualifying lawmakers. SB 1107 received bipartisan support from two-thirds of state legislators in the Senate and Assembly and now heads to California Governor Jerry Brown for consideration. 

“Our elections should be about regular voters and the issues they care about, not a handful of wealthy contributors,” said Emily Rusch, Executive Director of CALPIRG. “This week’s bill helps to make that a reality by opening the door for programs that incentive candidates to focus their campaigns on small contributions and everyday constituents. As SB 1107 heads to the governor’s desk, we plan to keep the pressure on for reform that builds a government of, by and for the people.” 

“Lifting the ban on small donor matching programs is a major victory for California residents who want to strike back against special interest influence in local elections,” said Dan Smith, Democracy Campaign Director for U.S. PIRG. “Across the country, voters are standing up for citizen-powered politics by passing small donor empowerment programs that refocus our elections on everyday constituents. SB 1107 gives California residents a chance to do the same and to amplify the voice of regular voters over mega-donors and outside groups.”

Small donor empowerment programs encourage candidates to raise money with small contributions from constituents by offering public matching funds for each small contribution a candidate collects. In order to qualify for small donor empowerment programs, candidates are often required to turn down large and corporate contributions, and collect a requisite number of small contributions to demonstrate public support.

Seventy-two percent of Americans, a broad, bipartisan majority, support small-donor solutions to overhaul the current campaign-finance system, according to a recent poll.

Small donor matching programs also have a track record of success. New York City’s program allowed participating candidates in the 2013 city council race to raise 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.

Last November, voters in Maine and Seattle passed ballot initiatives to create and strengthen their own small donor empowerment programs. In 2016, voters and lawmakers have an opportunity to enact similar reforms in states and cities across the country

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U.S. PIRG, the U.S. 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.