Senate Bill Introduced to Fight Big Money in Elections, Amplify Voices of Small Donors

Media Contacts
Dan Smith


With 2016 candidates already raising eye-popping amounts from large donors for their campaigns, Sen. Durbin (IL) introduced legislation today that would give new power to 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 U.S. 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 Dan Smith, Democracy Campaign Director for U.S. PIRG. “Imagine if candidates could fund their campaigns by appealing to the people they’re seeking to represent instead of dialing for dollars to rake in a few big checks. That’s what this critical legislation does.”

“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, the bill’s author. “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, including good government, environmental, small business, faith, labor, and civil rights organizations. 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 localities across the country 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.

–          In Seattle, 32,000 residents signed a petition to put a small donor empowerment initiative on the ballot in the fall.

–          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 Smith.