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Policy Solution

The Brennan Center’s Money in Politics Toolkit

Key Point: More comprehensive state and local laws can amplify the voices of everyday citizens, empower voters, and boost confidence in the system.

  • Brennan Center for Justice
Last Updated: May 14, 2018
Published: May 1, 2018

Our polit­ical system is out of balance. Dispro­por­tion­ate atten­tion is lavished on large donors – whose contri­bu­tions often remain secret. This misalign­ment has consequences all down the line, from the legis­la­tion our politi­cians advance, to the candid­ates who can join races. These prob­lems may seem insur­mount­able, but they are not. Even with a Supreme Court hostile to common-sense campaign finance reform, there are ways to make the system fairer and ensure that more people have a say in  our govern­ment.

Politi­cians’ reli­ance on big money is bad for voters. There is a grow­ing discon­nect between aver­age citizens and elec­ted offi­cials, fueled by a system that stacks the deck in favor of a small number of deep-pock­eted donors. In addi­tion, voters receive seem­ingly nonstop unac­count­able polit­ical messaging through advert­ising and social media. In 2016, many of these messages, unbe­knownst to view­ers, came from Russi­ans seek­ing to thwart our demo­cracy. Without inform­a­tion about polit­ical ads’ sources, voters are left with little abil­ity to eval­u­ate them and cast informed votes. 

Big spend­ing is also a prob­lem for candid­ates. It creates an obstacle for ordin­ary people who chal­lenge well-financed oppon­ents. As a result, those beholden to a narrow segment of the popu­la­tion control the agenda, and those with contrary prior­it­ies are more likely to be ignored. 

Inac­tion by Congress and the Federal Elec­tion Commis­sion has shown that mean­ing­ful change is unlikely at the federal level. But there is plenty that could be done on the state and local levels, consist­ent with Supreme Court preced­ent. More compre­hens­ive laws can help amplify the voices of every­day citizens, empower voters, and boost confid­ence in the system. They also can protect the integ­rity of our insti­tu­tions by increas­ing trans­par­ency, stem­ming corrup­tion and influxes of illegal foreign money.

The Bren­nan Center’s Money in Polit­ics Toolkit provides a resource for state and local lawmakers and advoc­ates to develop reforms in six key areas:

Public Financing