Government by the People Act Introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes

Building on state, local victories, bill offers national democracy reforms


WASHINGTON, DC – On Tuesday, Rep. John Sarbanes introduced the Government by the People Act, a small donor empowerment bill aimed at providing an equal voice to everyday voters currently drowned out by super PACs and wealthy contributors. The bill introduction follows the passage of a small donor empowerment ballot initiative in Howard County, Maryland, parts of which are in Rep. Sarbanes’ own congressional district. One hundred forty-eight original cosponsors joined Rep. Sarbanes for the Government by the People Act’s reintroduction.

“If we want to change the way our democracy works and reduce the influence of special interests in our elections, we have to offer an alternative,” said Andre Delattre, Executive Director of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “The Government by the People Act would give our lawmakers a chance to fund their campaigns with support from their constituents, not just wealthy donors. That would be a gamechanger in today’s world of big-money politics. Voters deserve a fair voice in our democracy and today’s bill would make that possible.”

The 2016 elections ranked as the most expensive in United States history, featuring nearly twice as much super PAC spending as our last presidential cycle. Close to half of all super PAC spending this election cycle was funded by just 50 mega-donors.

In order to counter the influence of big political donors, states, cities, and local municipalities have passed small donor empowerment reforms that give regular voters a fair voice in elections. Since 2014, U.S. PIRG has played a leading role in successful small donor empowerment campaigns in Maine, Maryland, Oregon, and Washington. This past year, Missouri, South Dakota, and areas including Howard County, Maryland; Berkley, California; and Portland, Oregon, passed legislation reforming state and local campaign finance laws.

The Government by the People Act would create a small donor empowerment program matching small campaign contributions at a six-to-one rate with limited public funds. The bill would also create a tax credit refunding small donors for up to $25 of election contributions.

On Tuesday, John Sarbanes and 148 House co-sponsors introduced H.R. 20, the Government by the People Act. The bill introduction follows the January 21 anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, a case that struck down campaign finance regulations and opened federal, state, and local elections to increased political spending and less disclosure.



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.