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The U.S. campaign finance system unfairly favors a small handful of wealthy donors. Small donor public financing could fix that.

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Why It Matters

There is a grow­ing discon­nect between elec­ted offi­cials and the major­ity of people they repres­ent. Part of the blame lies with a campaign finance system that unfairly stacks the deck in favor of the few donors able to give large contri­bu­tions. Citizens United and other court rulings ended decades of common­sense campaign finance laws. Now a hand­ful of wealthy special interests domin­ate polit­ical fund­ing, often through super PACs and shad­owy nonprofits that shield donors’ iden­tit­ies.

Bren­nan Center for Justice has pion­eered the most effect­ive and prom­ising solu­tion to the prob­lem of big money in polit­ics: small donor public finan­cing, a system in which public funds match and multiply small dona­tions. New York City’s multiple match system, in which a $50 dona­tion gener­ates a total of $350 for the candid­ate, has helped reduce the influ­ence of special interests and empower aver­age voters, and the idea is gain­ing trac­tion across the coun­try. 

It’s easy to see why. Small donor public finan­cing incentiv­izes candid­ates to seek out many support­ers, not just a few big donors. It enables more candid­ates from diverse back­grounds to run and it ampli­fies the voices of regu­lar people. Designed right, small donor public finan­cing also permits candid­ates to raise and spend what they need to compete in the super PAC era, should they choose to opt in. And, because it does­n’t restrict polit­ical spend­ing, it stands up to the current Supreme Court’s require­ments. 

Other approaches to public campaign finan­cing include voucher systems, where citizens receive certain amounts in public funds they can direct to their preferred candid­ates. Tax cred­its for small campaign dona­tions are another way to encour­age more people to parti­cip­ate.

Solutions

Boost Public Fund­ing of Elec­tions

All levels of govern­ments should enact a way to amplify the voices of regu­lar people in elec­tions and incentiv­ize candid­ates to seek out broad support. Small donor public finan­cing that provides a multiple match on modest dona­tions has proven espe­cially effect­ive.

Read more in our Demo­cracy solu­tions report.

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