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Expert Brief

Small Donor Matching in the 'For the People Act’

The For the People Act’s public finance reforms represent the best hope for bringing about the transformative changes that voters demand.

Last Updated: February 11, 2021
Published: September 20, 2019

One of the signa­ture provi­sions in the For the People Act (H.R.1 in the House of Repres­ent­at­ives, S.1 in the Senate) is small donor match­ing. The small donor provi­sions of H.R.1 would use public funds to amplify small private contri­bu­tions to parti­cip­at­ing federal candid­ates. Small donor match­ing is an anti­dote to big money polit­ics, and the single most effect­ive way to respond to Citizens United and other court cases that have swept aside campaign finance safe­guards. Small donor match­ing would free members of Congress to spend less time dial­ing for dollars and more time connect­ing with voters. It would help curb corrup­tion and bolster flag­ging confid­ence in our demo­cracy. And it would bolster the diversity of donors, office­hold­ers, and candid­ates. H.R.1’s small donor provi­sions repres­ent exactly the sort of trans­form­at­ive change that voters have deman­ded and which Congress has prom­ised to deliver.

The cost of these provi­sions would be modest. Based on CBO cost estim­ates, it would amount to 0.01 percent of the over­all federal budget over ten years. Moreover, they are self-fund­ing. H.R.1 does not use any taxpayer revenue to fund small donor match­ing.

Even if that were not the case, H.R.1’s small donor provi­sions would be a good deal for taxpay­ers. Simply put, polit­ical campaigns cost money, which has to come from some­where. When campaigns are funded primar­ily by wealthy donors and special interests, they natur­ally expect some­thing in return – namely, the chance to shape govern­ment policy to suit their own interests and pref­er­ences, even when they are at odds with those of most other Amer­ic­ans. The real­ity, or even the percep­tion, that campaign donors call the shots on major policy decisions is deeply corros­ive to our demo­cracy.

For only a modest invest­ment, we can have a differ­ent system, one that would rein­force the primacy of voters. In the long run, this will bene­fit all Amer­ic­ans.

To read the full Bren­nan Center Analysis, click here.

For media inquir­ies, contact: Alex­an­dra Ringe; alex­an­dra.ringe@nyu.edu; 646.925.8744