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Letter to the New York Times: A Smart Approach to Strengthening Parties

The authors of a recent Brennan Center paper write that lifting all contribution limits to parties could exacerbate corruption, but smart reforms to relax certain restrictions could strengthen the aspects of the parties that benefit our democracy.

This letter, by the authors of “Stronger Parties, Stronger Democracy: Rethinking Reform,” originally ran at The New York Times.

Thomas B. Edsall is right to worry about the increasing influence of the superrich on our elections (“Can Anything Be Done About All the Money in Politics?,” column,, Sept. 16). But his solution — to let party committees take unlimited contributions — would be the wrong approach.

Lifting contribution limits entirely could make parties clones of super PACs, top-down, unaccountable organizations controlled by megadonors and insider consultants. That would negate the very qualities that make the parties attractive as political actors.

Unlike outside groups fueled by unlimited donations, parties facilitate broad participation in politics. They collect small donations from a vast number of people and offer many opportunities for volunteers. And grass-roots activists play a meaningful role in internal party governance.

In a new paper, we conclude that there are reforms worth considering, like matching small donations with public funds and relaxing fund-raising restrictions on state and local committees. These changes could strengthen the aspects of parties that benefit our democracy, particularly their status as engines of participation for ordinary citizens, without worsening the risk of corruption.