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Small Donor Public Financing Could Advance Race and Gender Equity in Congress

A small donation-matching public financing system, as outlined in H.R. 1, could help reduce long standing fundraising disparities for women of color candidates running for the U.S. House.

Published: October 15, 2020

Introduction

Voters’ demands for a more repres­ent­at­ive demo­cracy have grown louder than ever. In 2018, they elec­ted women and people of color to Congress in historic numbers. foot­note1_0g4l8k0 1 Li Zhou, “A Historic New Congress Will Be Sworn in Today,” Vox, Janu­ary 3, 2019, https://www.vox.com/2018/12/6/18119733/congress-diversity-women-elec­tion-good-news. And in 2020, more women of color are running for Congress than ever before. foot­note2_t4b7epl 2 Kelly Ditmar, “What You Need to Know About the Record Numbers of Women Candid­ates in 2020,” Center for Amer­ican Women and Polit­ics, August 10, 2020, https://cawp.rutgers.edu/elec­tion-analysis/record-numbers-women-candid­ates-2020.

This progress deserves applause, espe­cially consid­er­ing the long­stand­ing barri­ers women and people of color face as candid­ates in rais­ing the funds to compete. These barri­ers help explain why, even with the gains of 2018, these groups continue to be signi­fic­antly under­rep­res­en­ted among congres­sional candid­ates.

The prob­lem is most acute for women of color. Over the past four general elec­tions for the U.S. House of Repres­ent­at­ives, women of color raised less on aver­age than all other candid­ates, relied more on small dona­tions than their white and/or male oppon­ents, and made up only 4 percent of candid­ates even though they consti­tute nearly 25 percent of the coun­try’s popu­la­tion, this analysis finds. foot­note3_tnc6j79 3 Compet­it­ive­ness of a given contest is a major driver of fundrais­ing; and women of color tend to run in less compet­it­ive contests than other candid­ates. See Sarah Bryner and Grace Haley, Race, Gender, and Money in Polit­ics: Campaign Finance and Federal Candid­ates in the 2018 Midterms, Peter G. Peterson Found­a­tion U.S. 2050, March 15, 2019, 4, https://www.pgpf.org/sites/default/files/US-2050-Race-Gender-and-Money-in-Polit­ics-Campaign-Finance-and-Federal-Candid­ates-in-the-2018-Midterms.pdf. (While complete fundrais­ing and candid­ate demo­graphic data for 2020 are not yet avail­able, they are not expec­ted signi­fic­antly to change these find­ings. foot­note4_1ubp0ew 4 Analysis of the most recent congres­sional fundrais­ing data avail­able — from the 2020 primar­ies — indic­ates that women, espe­cially women of color, raised less money on aver­age than other candid­ates. See Sarah Bryner, “Race and Gender Diversity in the 117th Congress,” Center for Respons­ive Polit­ics, June 30, 2020, Table 2, https://www.open­secrets.org/news/reports/gender-and-race-2020. )

“It’s really hard for women to run,” Veron­ica Esco­bar, a Latina House member elec­ted in 2018, told the Texas Tribune. “And I think it’s even harder for women of color because fundrais­ing is really such a huge compon­ent of running in a congres­sional race and many of us have limited networks.” foot­note5_3gg97dc 5 Abby Living­ston and Julián Aguilar, “Texas Posed to Send Its First Two Lati­nas to Congress,” Texas Tribune, March 6, 2018, https://www.texastribune.org/2018/03/06/texas-poised-send-first-two-lati­nas-congress/.

This study shows that a small dona­tion-match­ing public finan­cing program could help minim­ize the disad­vant­ages faced by women of color running for office — and enable all candid­ates to focus more on constitu­ents and less on large donors while still rais­ing compet­it­ive sums. Small donor public finan­cing is a key provi­sion of the For the People Act (H.R. 1), a sweep­ing demo­cracy reform bill that the House of Repres­ent­at­ives passed in 2019. Parti­cip­a­tion in the program would be volun­tary, avail­able to candid­ates who agree to lower contri­bu­tion limits and other require­ments. In juris­dic­tions that already offer similar programs, public finan­cing has increased donor diversity and candid­ates’ outreach to their constitu­ents. foot­note6_2ndzeky 6 Elisa­beth Genn et al., Donor‍‍‍‍ Diver­‍‍‍‍s­ity Thr‍‍‍‍ough Public Match­ing Funds, Bren­nan Center for Justice, May 14, 2012, 13, https://www.bren­nan­cen­ter.org/sites/default/files/2019–08/Report_Donor­Di­versity-public-match­ing-funds.PDF; Michael J. Malbin, Peter W. Brusoe, and Brendan Glavin, “Small Donors, Big Demo­cracy: New York City’s Match­ing Funds as a Model for the Nation and States,” Elec­tion Law Jour‍‍‍‍nal 11, no. 1 (2012):14, http://www.cfinst.org/pdf/state/nyc-as-a-model_elj_as-published_march2012.pdf.

Key find­ings of this analysis of the past four general elec­tions for the U.S. House of Repres­ent­at­ives include the follow­ing. (The numbers of candid­ates of color for the U.S. Senate have been too low to enable a similar, stat­ist­ic­ally sound analysis.):

Women and people of color are signi­fic­antly under­rep­res­en­ted among House candid­ates.

  • Women made up just 26 percent of candid­ates, compared to 51 percent of the general popu­la­tion. Even if women kept winning at their unpre­ced­en­ted rate in 2018, it would take more than three decades for their numbers in Congress to reflect their 51 percent share of the general popu­la­tion, the Center for Respons­ive Polit­ics found. foot­note7_mf22dr3 7 Bryner and Haley, Race, Gender, and Money in Polit­ics, 3.
  • People of color were less than 20 percent of candid­ates, though they are 40 percent of the nation.

Women and people of color running for the House depend more on small dona­tions.

Small donor public finan­cing could reduce race and gender inequit­ies among candid­ates.

  • H.R. 1’s small dona­tion-match­ing program espe­cially helps candid­ates who face systemic disad­vant­ages in access­ing large donors and rely more on small donors, though all candid­ates stand to bene­fit.
  • Under the reform, the aver­age female candid­ate over the past four general House elec­tions could have raised over $600,000 more per cycle, while the aver­age male candid­ate could have raised nearly $445,000 more. The aver­age candid­ate of color could have raised $427,000 more per cycle, while the aver­age white candid­ate could have raised $309,000 more.
  • The reform could partic­u­larly empower women of color, the most disad­vant­aged group when it comes to tradi­tional fundrais­ing. In the 2018 cycle, H.R. 1 could have reduced the aver­age fundrais­ing defi­cit of women of color candid­ates by 34 percent.

Elec­ted offi­cials and constitu­ents also bene­fit from small donor public finan­cing.

  • Office­hold­ers who have parti­cip­ated in public finan­cing say it frees more of their time for governance and better aligns their fundrais­ing efforts with repres­ent­ing constitu­ents.
  • The reform brings more people into the polit­ical process as donors and increases the socioeco­nomic diversity of donors compared to the tradi­tional campaign finance system. foot­note10_09xffqg 10 Malbin, Brusoe, and Glavin, “Small Donors, Big Demo­cracy,” 14; Genn et al, Donor‍‍‍‍ Diver­‍‍‍‍s­ity Thr‍‍‍‍ough Public Match­ing Funds, 13; Michael J. Malbin and Michael Parrot, “Small Donor Empower­ment Depends on the Details: Compar­ing Match­ing Fund Programs in New York and Los Angeles,” The Forum: A Journal of Applied Research in Contem­por­ary Polit­ics 15, no. 2 (2017): 43, https://www.degruyter.com/down­load­pdf/j/for.2017.15.issue-2/for-2017–0015/for-2017–0015.pdf; and Bergen Smith, Hamsini Srid­haran, and Laura Curlin, “2018 Fair Elec­tions in Berke­ley,” MapLight, Decem­ber 19, 2019, https://maplight.org/story/2018-fair-elec­tions-in-berke­ley/.

End Notes

Women and People of Color Are Significantly Underrepresented in Congressional Elections

Among general elec­tion candid­ates for the U.S. House of Repres­ent­at­ives from 2012 through 2018, women and people of color were signi­fic­antly under­rep­res­en­ted compared to their share of the Amer­ican popu­la­tion, accord­ing to an analysis based on data compiled by Emory Univer­sity polit­ical scient­ist Bern­ard L. Fraga. foot­note1_a0o0bfl 1 For a detailed explan­a­tion of the coding meth­od­o­logy Bern­ard L. Fraga used to create the federal candid­ate demo­graphic data­set, see Bern­ard L. Fraga, “Separ­at­ing Race and Party in Congres­sional Elec­tions (Work­ing Paper)”, June 9, 2020, 1 (Appendix), https://www.drop­box.com/s/854s­vzc8pju75fo/Race­PartyCan­did­ates_060920.pdf?dl=0. See also Bern­ard L. Fraga, “The Next Congress Will Prob­ably Be the Most Diverse Ever,The Wash­ing­ton Post, June 22, 2020, https://www.wash­ing­ton­post.com/polit­ics/2020/06/22/next-congress-will-prob­ably-be-most-diverse-ever/. The analysis yiel­ded the follow­ing find­ings:

  • Women of color were least repres­en­ted, making up only 4 percent of all House candid­ates, despite compris­ing almost 25 percent of the popu­la­tion.
  • Women were just 26 percent of House candid­ates, though they consti­tute 51 percent of the nation’s popu­la­tion.
  • People of color were less than 20 percent of House candid­ates, though they make up 40 percent of the nation’s popu­la­tion.

To be sure, Congress has seen an upward trend in racial, ethnic, and gender diversity over the past two decades. foot­note2_pftmgml 2 Kristen Bialik, “For the Fifth Time in a Row the New Congress Is the Most Racially and Ethnic­ally Diverse Ever,” Pew Research Center, Febru­ary 8, 2019, https://www.pewre­search.org/fact-tank/2019/02/08/for-the-fifth-time-in-a-row-the-new-congress-is-the-most-racially-and-ethnic­ally-diverse-ever/; Center for Amer­ican Women and Polit­ics, “History of Women in the U.S. Congress,” date accessed Octo­ber 2, 2020, https://cawp.rutgers.edu/history-women-us-congress. Gains in gender diversity reflect a marked increase in women of color candid­ates. From 2012 to 2018, their numbers increased by 68 percent while the number of white female candid­ates increased by 33 percent. foot­note3_u35ynoh 3 This stat­istic was calcu­lated through a Bren­nan Center analysis of demo­graphic data for House general elec­tion candid­ates from 2012 to 2018, which was compiled by Emory Univer­sity Polit­ical Scient­ist Bern­ard L. Fraga, and Federal Elec­tion Commis­sions contri­bu­tions data over the same time period.

Women now comprise nearly a quarter of repres­ent­at­ives in the House, a record high. foot­note4_yfab­cx3 4 Drew Desil­ver, “A Record Number of Women Will Be Serving in the New Congress,” Pew Research Center, Decem­ber 18, 2018, https://www.pewre­search.org/fact-tank/2018/12/18/record-number-women-in-congress/. In 2018, Black women surmoun­ted both race and gender barri­ers in record numbers and made up 21.6 percent of all women who won in the House. foot­note5_jw4ubaw 5 Higher Heights Lead­er­ship Fund and Center for Amer­ican Women and Polit­ics, Black Women in Amer­ican Polit­ics, 2019, 8, https://cawp.rutgers.edu/sites/default/files/resources/black-women-polit­ics-2019.pdf; Glynda C. Carr, “Black Women Candid­ates: Debunk­ing the Historic Elect­ab­il­ity Myth,” Demo­cracy Journal Summer, no. 57 (2020), https://demo­cracy­journal.org/magazine/57/black-women-candid­ates-debunk­ing-the-historic-elect­ab­il­ity-myth/. And in 2020, more women are running for Congress than in 2018, accord­ing to the Center for Amer­ican Women and Polit­ics at Rutgers Univer­sity. foot­note6_ra6n­nf8 6 Ditmar, “What You Need to Know About the Record Numbers of Women Candid­ates in 2020”.

The 2018 midterms were a strong indic­a­tion that when women and people of color run, voters often will elect them. The Amer­ican elect­or­ate is diver­si­fy­ing rapidly, accord­ing to the Pew Research Center, with people of color projec­ted to be a third of all voters — their largest share ever — in the 2020 federal elec­tions. foot­note7_oo3odq4 7 Anthony Cilluffo and Richard Fry, “An Early Look at the 2020 Elect­or­ate,” Pew Research Center, Janu­ary 30, 2019, https://www.pewso­cial­trends.org/essay/an-early-look-at-the-2020-elect­or­ate/. Women, who have turned out to vote in higher numbers than men in every pres­id­en­tial elec­tion since 1964, will continue to be a driv­ing force. foot­note8_wg1x­hj6 8 Laurence Arnold, “The Gender Gap in Voting,” Bloomberg, June 4, 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/quick­take/gender-gap.

Yet much progress remains to be made before Congress reflects the diversity of the elect­or­ate. Compared to the 2016 House general elec­tions, racial and gender diversity increased only slightly in 2018. The share of candid­ates of color increased from 21 percent to 23 percent, while the share of female candid­ates increased from 20 percent to 28 percent. foot­note9_4iyci7h 9 This stat­istic was calcu­lated through a Bren­nan Center analysis of demo­graphic data for House general elec­tion candid­ates from 2012 to 2018, which was compiled by Emory Univer­sity Polit­ical Scient­ist Bern­ard L. Fraga. White men are still overrep­res­en­ted in the current Congress, making up 90 percent of Repub­lican House members and 38 percent of Demo­cratic House members — or 62 percent of the House in total — as opposed to only 30 percent of the popu­la­tion. foot­note10_agyac6g 10 This stat­istic was calcu­lated through a Bren­nan Center analysis of demo­graphic data for House general elec­tion candid­ates from 2012 to 2018, which was compiled by Emory Univer­sity Polit­ical Scient­ist Bern­ard L. Fraga. White men make up 30 percent of the U.S. popu­la­tion, accord­ing to U.S. Census Amer­ican Community Survey 5-year data from 2014 to 2018.

Partisan dispar­it­ies have limited progress for women’s repres­ent­a­tion in Congress. Over the past three decades, the number of women elec­ted as Demo­crats has risen (though still not to parity with women’s share of the general popu­la­tion), while the number elec­ted as Repub­lic­ans has stag­nated. foot­note11_nfbq94p 11 Bryner and Haley, Race, Gender, and Money in Polit­ics, 3. Even if women kept winning congres­sional contests at the unpre­ced­en­ted rate seen in 2018, it would still take more than three decades for them to reach the 51 percent mark they hold in the general popu­la­tion, accord­ing to the Center for Respons­ive Polit­ics. foot­note12_a6ul6be 12 Bryner and Haley, Race, Gender, and Money in Polit­ics, 3.

Progress for people of color, an ever-grow­ing portion of the elect­or­ate, has been even slower when it comes to repres­ent­a­tion in Congress. foot­note13_nzr9bqg 13 Cilluffo and Fry, “An Early Look at the 2020 Elect­or­ate.” Black women may have shattered records in 2018, but gains in their polit­ical repres­ent­a­tion were incre­mental: they make up 8 percent of the popu­la­tion but only 5 percent of the House today. foot­note14_aueix69 14 Higher Heights and Center for Amer­ican Women and Polit­ics, Black Women in Amer­ican Polit­ics, 8. Latino Amer­ic­ans, the largest minor­ity group in the United States, make up 18 percent of the popu­la­tion, but only 8 percent of the members of Congress. foot­note15_20p1t8k 15 Suzanne Gamboa, “Lati­nos Show Record Gains in Congress, Though Numbers Are Still Low,” NBC News, Novem­ber 15, 2018, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/lati­nos-show-record-gains-congress-though-numbers-are-still-low-n936781. Again, partisan dispar­it­ies limit progress. People of color make up 27 percent of the House, though they are 40 percent of the popu­la­tion — and 90 percent of these repres­ent­at­ives are Demo­crats. foot­note16_43yn­aem 16 Jennifer E. Manning, Member­ship of the 116th Congress: A Profile, Congres­sional Research Service, July 22, 2020, 7–8, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R45583.pdf; Bryner, Race and Gender Diversity in the 117th Congress; see also Center for Respons­ive Polit­ics, “Reelec­tion Rates Over the Years,” Open­Secrets.org, date accessed Octo­ber 2, 2020, https://www.open­secrets.org/over­view/reelect.php.

In the 2020 House elec­tions, women and people of color continue to face limited oppor­tun­it­ies to gain ground, due to high rates of incum­bents running for reelec­tion — with a typical 91 percent win rate — and persist­ent fundrais­ing barri­ers, accord­ing to the Center for Respons­ive Polit­ics. foot­note17_5brw8si 17 Bryner, “Race and Gender Diversity in the 117th Congress”; see also Center for Respons­ive Polit­ics, “Reelec­tion Rates Over the Years,” Open­Secrets.org, date accessed Octo­ber 2, 2020, https://www.open­secrets.org/over­view/reelect.php. Open seat races offer women of color the best chance to win, a study by Polit­ical Parity found. foot­note18_4wsapkj 18 Shauna Shames, Where Women Win: Clos­ing the Gap in Congress, Polit­ical Parity, Octo­ber 2017, 8, https://www.polit­ic­al­par­ity.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Where-Women-Win-Final.pdf.

Voters want the status quo to change. Recent polls show that most Amer­ic­ans are dissat­is­fied with how demo­cracy is work­ing and want to see more progress toward racial and gender equity. foot­note19_f9s4­ci2 19 Jonathan M. Ladd, Joshua A. Tucker, and Sean Kates, 2018 Amer­ican Insti­tu­tional Confid­ence Poll, date accessed Octo­ber 2, 2020, http://aicpoll.com/; Juli­ana Menasce Horow­itz, Anna Brown, and Kiana Cox, Race in Amer­ica 2019, Pew Research Center, April 9, 2019, https://www.pewso­cial­trends.org/2019/04/09/race-in-amer­ica-2019/; Rachel Minkin, Most Amer­ic­ans Support Gender Equal­ity, Even If They Don’t Identify as Femin­ists, Pew Research Center, July 14, 2020, https://www.pewre­search.org/fact-tank/2020/07/14/most-amer­ic­ans-support-gender-equal­ity-even-if-they-dont-identify-as-femin­ists/. Across the coun­try, mass protests demand­ing changes to issues such as crim­inal law policies and struc­tural racism high­light the need for reform that enables a more repres­ent­at­ive govern­ment.

End Notes

The Current Campaign Finance System Creates Barriers for Women and People of Color Who Want to Run for Office

Fundrais­ing abil­ity does not always dictate whether a candid­ate wins — but it is a major factor, and often oper­ates as a screen­ing criterion long before voters have the chance to choose. In the past four House general elec­tions, the aver­age losing candid­ate raised $640,000 while the aver­age winning candid­ate raised $1.8 million. foot­note1_fh9k­szr 1 See Meth­od­o­logy Section on page 14 for a detailed explan­a­tion of stat­ist­ical results. The 2018 Congres­sional elec­tions were the most expens­ive in history, with candid­ates spend­ing a total of $5.7 billion. foot­note2_htc57xa 2 Open­Secrets.org, “Most Expens­ive Midterm Ever: Cost of 2018 Elec­tion Surpasses $5.7 billion,” Center for Respons­ive Polit­ics, Febru­ary 6, 2019, https://www.open­secrets.org/news/2019/02/cost-of-2018-elec­tion-5pnt7bil/.

Party lead­ers and major donors see candid­ates’ early fundrais­ing numbers as a meas­ure of their viab­il­ity. foot­note3_jblw6fi 3 Raymond J. La Raja, and Brian F. Schaffner, Campaign Finance and Polit­ical Polar­iz­a­tion: When Purists Prevail (Ann Arbor, MI: Univer­sity of Michigan Press, 2015), 24, https://www.press.umich.edu/4882255/campaign_finance_and_polit­ical_polar­iz­a­tion; Gary C. Jacob­son, The Polit­ics of Congres­sional Elec­tions, 8th ed. (Boston: Pear­son Educa­tion, 2013), 7, https://www.pear­son.com/us/higher-educa­tion/program/Jacob­son-Polit­ics-of-Congres­sional-Elec­tions-The-8th-Edition/PGM332837.html. Candid­ates who are less able to hit prelim­in­ary marks, either through personal funds or by find­ing the time and networks to raise enough money, face a disad­vant­age in garner­ing the addi­tional support from these back­ers to win. foot­note4_oj1zdr6 4 Adam Bonica, Profes­sional Networks, Early Fundrais­ing, and Elect­oral Success, Schol­ars Strategy Network, (2016): 2, https://schol­ars.org/sites/schol­ars/files/bonica_profes­sional_networks_early_fundrais­ing_and_elect­oral_success.pdf.

“To have a metric that’s solely based on fundrais­ing, without taking into account any racial dispar­it­ies, poses a real chal­lenge,” Quentin James, exec­ut­ive director of Collect­ive PAC, a group seek­ing to close the repres­ent­a­tion gap for African Amer­ic­ans, told News­week. foot­note5_mzu3ns6 5 Marie Solis, “Black Women Candid­ates Running in 2018 Face More Obstacles, Polit­ical Experts Say,” News­week, April 9, 2018, https://www.news­week.com/black-women-candid­ates-running-2018-face-more-obstacles-polit­ical-experts-say-877825. One major dispar­ity with implic­a­tions for candid­ates of color is the well-docu­mented racial wealth gap, created by the nation’s histor­ical and persist­ent struc­tural racism. The median net worth of a Black family is just one-tenth that of a white family, stud­ies have found. foot­note6_rmn134q 6 Moritz Kuhn, Moritz Schu­larick, and Ulrike I. Steins, Wealth and Inequal­ity in Amer­ica, 1949–2016, Oppor­tun­ity and Inclus­ive Growth Insti­tute, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, 2018, 26, https://www.minneapol­isfed.org/insti­tute/work­ing-papers-insti­tute/iwp9.pdf; Tom Shapiro et al., The Black-White Wealth Gap, Insti­tute on Assets and Social Policy and Thur­good Marshall Insti­tute, Novem­ber 2019, 2, https://tmin­sti­tuteldf.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/FINAL-RWG-Brief-v1.pdf. Further, Black indi­vidu­als with wealth to give away are more inclined to donate to char­it­ies than to polit­ical campaigns. foot­note7_1tqm­hwb 7 Late­shia Beachum, “There Are Many Rich Minor­it­ies. So Why Are There No Koch Broth­ers?” The Center for Public Integ­rity, July 23, 2018, https://publicin­teg­rity.org/polit­ics/there-are-many-rich-minor­it­ies-so-why-are-there-no-black-koch-broth­ers/.

These fundrais­ing prerequis­ites also hamper female candid­ates, whose social and profes­sional networks are less likely to include major donors. foot­note8_0gop­kry 8 Kira Sanbon­matsu, Research Invent­ory: Amer­ican Women and Polit­ics, Center for Amer­ican Women and Polit­ics, 2015, 42, https://www.polit­ic­al­par­ity.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Parity-Research-Full.pdf. In a 2012 survey of 45 women candid­ates and office­hold­ers at the federal, state, and local levels, the Insti­tute for Women’s Policy Research found that most had never been encour­aged by party lead­ers or other power brokers to run for higher office. foot­note9_g4oj0un 9 Insti­tute for Women’s Policy Research, “Build­ing Women’s Polit­ical Careers: Strength­en­ing the Pipeline to Higher Office – Major Find­ings and Recom­mend­a­tions for Action,” accessed Octo­ber 2, 2020, https://iwpr.org/public­a­tions/build­ing-womens-polit­ical-careers-strength­en­ing-the-pipeline-to-higher-office/. The women said they lacked access to donor networks and faced diffi­culty fundrais­ing. foot­note10_l0687i1 10 Insti­tute for Women’s Policy Research, “Build­ing Women’s Polit­ical Careers: Strength­en­ing the Pipeline to Higher Office – Major Find­ings and Recom­mend­a­tions for Action.”

The under­rep­res­ent­a­tion of women and people of color in Congress exists against a back­drop of histor­ical race and gender discrim­in­a­tion in areas of oppor­tun­ity, such as educa­tion and employ­ment, that enable personal wealth or access to wealthy networks. foot­note11_impcex0 11 Kira Sanbon­matsu, “Women’s Under­rep­res­ent­a­tion in Congress,” Daedalus (Winter 2020): 42, https://www.amacad.org/public­a­tion/womens-under­rep­res­ent­a­tion-us-congress; Judith Warner, “Open­ing the Gates: Clear­ing the Way for More Women to Hold Polit­ical Office,” Center for Amer­ican Progress, May 2017, 10, https://cdn.amer­ic­an­pro­gress.org/content/uploads/2017/05/17132756/Gate­keep­ers-report­May.pdf A 2016 study of 5,005 congres­sional candid­ates showed that a candid­ate’s profes­sional network, rather than their “talent or appeal as a politi­cian,” was the primary determ­in­ant of their success. foot­note12_2hlaqba 12 Bonica, “Profes­sional Networks, Early Fundrais­ing, and Elect­oral Success,” 8. The study found, for instance, that the legal industry, by giving to campaigns and broker­ing connec­tions with wealthy clients, had driven the overrep­res­ent­a­tion of lawyers in Congress, a phenomenon unseen in compar­able coun­tries. foot­note13_ec0htlj 13 Bonica, “Profes­sional Networks, Early Fundrais­ing, and Elect­oral Success,” 9.

High rates of incum­bents running for reelec­tion — and the signi­fic­ant fundrais­ing advant­age incum­bents enjoy — pose another obstacle to increas­ing diversity in Congress. In the four most recent House elec­tions, more than two-thirds of incum­bents were white men and 95 percent of them retained their seats. foot­note14_z8bk2i1 14 This stat­istic was calcu­lated through a Bren­nan Center analysis of demo­graphic data for House general elec­tion candid­ates from 2012 to 2018, which was compiled by Emory Univer­sity Polit­ical Scient­ist Dr. Bern­ard L. Fraga. On aver­age, incum­bents are able to raise 20 to 25 percent more in campaign contri­bu­tions than chal­lengers, largely from interest groups seek­ing access to office­hold­ers. foot­note15_3f4ylec 15 Alex­an­der Fouirnaies and Andrew B. Hall, “The Finan­cial Incum­bency Advant­age: Causes and Consequences,” The Journal of Polit­ics 76, no. 3 (2014): 711, https://www.researchg­ate.net/public­a­tion/271664379_The_Finan­cial_Incum­bency_Advant­age_Causes_and_Consequences.

Yet even open-seat contests, the most prom­ising path to Congress for women, see the effects of systemic bias. foot­note16_nibw2q2 16 Eric R.A.N Smith and Richard L. Fox, “The Elect­oral Fortunes of Women Candid­ates for Congress,” Polit­ical Research Quarterly 54, no. 1 (2001): 217, https://journ­als.sage­pub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/106591290105400111?journ­al­Code=prqb; Accord­ing to the Center for Amer­ican Women and Polit­ics, the large numbers of incum­bents who chose not to seek reelec­tion offered “nearly unpre­ced­en­ted struc­tural oppor­tun­it­ies” for women to win seats in Congress. See Kelly Ditmar, Unfin­ished Busi­ness: Women Running in 2018 and Beyond, Center for Amer­ican Women and Polit­ics, 2019, 20, https://women­run.rutgers.edu/why-how-women-run/. Women run for open seats at dispro­por­tion­ately low rates. foot­note17_l6ygqji 17 Barbara C. Burrell, Gender in Campaigns for the U.S. House of Repres­ent­at­ives (Ann Arbor, MI: Univer­sity of Michigan Press, 2014) 67–69, https://www.press.umich.edu/213944/gender_in_campaigns_for_the_us_house_of_repres­ent­at­ives. Insti­tu­tional donors, such as PACs, “system­at­ic­ally” prefer to support men rather than women in open contests, accord­ing to a study by the Center for Respons­ive Polit­ics. foot­note18_ll6sxke 18 Center for Respons­ive Polit­ics, Common Cause, and Repres­ent­a­tion 2020, Indi­vidual and PAC Giving to Women Candid­ates, Novem­ber 2016, 1, https://d3n8a8­pro7vhmx.cloud­front.net/fair­vote/pages/4944/attach­ments/original/1480999514/Giving_to_Female_Candid­ates_2016.pdf.

Women of color face dual chal­lenges in rais­ing enough to demon­strate their finan­cial viab­il­ity at all levels of office. “How do you create equity in fund­ing African Amer­ican and Latina women who have less access to fundrais­ing money in the first place, if your stand­ard for giving money is that the person has to hit a certain threshold?” Nina Turner, former candid­ate for Ohio Secret­ary of State, said in an inter­view with Dēmos. foot­note19_rhkl0kt 19 Donovan X. Ramsey, “Nina Turner on Race, Gender, and Money in Polit­ics,” Dēmos, August 20, 2015, https://www.Demos.org/blog/nina-turner-race-gender-and-money-polit­ics. Schol­ars have found that women, espe­cially women of color, expressed more concern than men about attract­ing donors, an issue that alto­gether deterred some from running for office. foot­note20_b60o4n3 20 Kira Sanbon­matsu, Susan J. Carroll, and Debbie Walsh, Poised to Run: Women’s Path­ways to the State Legis­latures, Center for Amer­ican Women and Polit­ics, 2009, 23, http://www.cawp.rutgers.edu/sites/default/files/resources/poisedtorun_0.pdf; Jennifer J. Lawless and Richard L. Fox, Men Rule: The Contin­ued Under-Repres­ent­a­tion of Women in Polit­ics, Amer­ican Univer­sity Women & Polit­ics Insti­tute, Janu­ary 2012, http://www.amer­ican.edu/spa/wpi/upload/2012-Men-Rule-Report-final-web.pdf; Barbara C. Burrell, “Women’s and Men’s Campaigns for The U.S. House of Repres­ent­at­ives, 1972–1982 A Finance Gap?,” Amer­ican Polit­ics Research 13, no. 3 (1985), http://apr.sage­pub.com/content/13/3/251.full.pdf+html

In 2018, Tanzie Young­blood, a Black woman, garnered signi­fic­ant grass­roots support when she ran to repres­ent New Jersey’s 2nd congres­sional district. But party lead­er­ship suppor­ted her white, male primary oppon­ent, who outraised her thanks to special-interest money (and, after winning elec­tion, switched parties). Young­blood, a retired teacher who took out personal loans to fund her campaign, told News­week that party lead­ers “don’t see the value in a candid­ate like me.” foot­note21_r15ph5u 21 Solis, “Why Are Demo­crats Back­ing a Former NRA Supporter Over a First-time Black Women Candid­ate?”; Anita Kumar, “Van Drew Pledges ‘Undy­ing Support’ for Trump as He Switches Parties,” Politico, Decem­ber 19, 2019, https://www.politico.com/news/2019/12/19/trump-meet-party-switch­ing-van-drew-087976.

Also in 2018, Gina Ortiz Jones set out to chal­lenge incum­bent Will Hurd in Texas’ 23rd congres­sional district. An Iraq War veteran who had served in Air Force intel­li­gence and held a master’s degree in econom­ics, she heard from exper­i­enced politi­cians that she would not be taken seri­ously unless she raised $300,000 in the first three months of her campaign. “Rais­ing $300,000 in three months is daunt­ing for some­body that, frankly, if you come from this area, you prob­ably don’t have the personal or profes­sional networks that lend itself to that,” Jones told the San Anto­nio Express. foot­note22_jl1h­f3m 22 Gilbert Garcia, “Fundrais­ing Made Jones Supporter of Finance Reform,” San Anto­nio Express, Octo­ber 7, 2018, http://digital.olivesoft­ware.com/Olive/ODN/SanAnto­nio­Ex­press­News/shared/ShowArticle.aspx?doc=SAEN­per­cent­2F2018­per­cent­2F10­per­cent­2F07&entity=Ar00201&sk=CECA46C3&mode=text#. The exper­i­ence led Jones to become a proponent of federal campaign finance reform.

End Notes

Women and People of Color Running for Congress Rely More on Small Donors

Women and people of color have relied more on small donors than their male and/or white coun­ter­parts, accord­ing to an analysis of the past four general elec­tions for the U.S. House. foot­note1_bdykzm4 1 See the Meth­od­o­logy section on page 14 or a detailed explan­a­tion of stat­ist­ical results. The female and nonwhite makeup of the total popu­la­tion was determ­ined using U.S. Census Amer­ican Community Survey 5-year data from 2014 to 2018. This analysis produced the follow­ing find­ings:

  • When a female candid­ate ran against a male candid­ate, the share of funds that the aver­age female candid­ate raised from small donors was 70 percent greater than the share raised by the aver­age male candid­ate. foot­note2_bhwr3yc 2 See Meth­od­o­logy section on page 14 for a detailed explan­a­tion of stat­ist­ical results. Fundrais­ing data addi­tion­ally showed that the aver­age female candid­ate raised a 12 percent higher propor­tion of large dona­tions than did the aver­age male candid­ate. Although this result is stat­ist­ic­ally signi­fic­ant, female candid­ates’ reli­ance on small dona­tions is stronger, since the aver­age female candid­ate raised a 70 percent higher propor­tion of small dona­tions than did the aver­age male candid­ate. Next, when Demo­cratic candid­ates were excluded from analysis — who over­all raised a higher propor­tion in small dona­tions than their Repub­lican coun­ter­parts (i.e., Repub­lican women, includ­ing general elec­tion winners) — female candid­ates were still found to have raised a higher propor­tion in small dona­tions than Repub­lican men.
  • When a candid­ate of color ran against a white candid­ate, the share of funds that the aver­age candid­ate of color raised from small donors was 67 percent greater than the share raised by the aver­age white candid­ate. foot­note3_xh3wysa 3 See Meth­od­o­logy section on page 14 for a detailed explan­a­tion of stat­ist­ical results.

Yet the relat­ive power of small donors, on whom nontra­di­tional candid­ates depend more, has plummeted in recent years. From 2008 to 2018, the share of money support­ing federal candid­ates that came from donors of more than $100,000 — an amount well over the median U.S. house­hold’s annual income — increased nearly five­fold. foot­note4_6oinefh 4 Vandewalker, “The 2018 Small Donor Boom Was Drowned Out by Big Donors.” Over the same period, the share of money from small donors remained constant, at about a fifth of total federal fundrais­ing. foot­note5_28y0jji 5 Vandewalker, “The 2018 Small Donor Boom Was Drowned Out by Big Donors.”

Even when millions of small donors mobil­ize to support candid­ates, a small number of large donors can drown them out. In the 2018 cycle, fewer than 3,500 large donors (each giving more than $100,000) contrib­uted more money to elect candid­ates than an estim­ated 7 million small donors (each giving $200 or less) combined. foot­note6_g6al5kj 6 Vandewalker, “The 2018 Small Donor Boom Was Drowned Out by Big Donors.”

Donors them­selves lack diversity as a group. The vast major­ity of federal elec­tion donors are white. foot­note7_iygoi9s 7 McEl­wee, Schaffner, and Rhodes, Whose Voice, Whose Choice?, 19. And even though female donors have increased their giving in recent years, men continue to make up the major­ity of donors in federal elec­tions. foot­note8_gc380bu 8 Center for Respons­ive Polit­ics, “Donor Demo­graph­ics,” date accessed Octo­ber 2, 2020, https://www.open­secrets.org/elec­tions-over­view/donor-demo­graph­ics?cycle=2018&display=G; Kate Zernike, “Female Candid­ates Break Barri­ers, Except When It Comes to Money,” New York Times, Octo­ber 30, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/30/us/polit­ics/women-campaign-fundrais­ing.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stor­ies&pgtype=Homepage. A study of donor demo­graph­ics in federal elec­tions from 1980 to 2012 showed that people of color accoun­ted for only 10 percent of indi­vidual contri­bu­tions and that women of color accoun­ted for only 2 percent. foot­note9_136asu3 9 Jacob M. Grumbach and Alex­an­der Sahn, “Race and Repres­ent­a­tion in Campaign Finance,” Amer­ican Polit­ical Science Review 114, no. 1 (2019): 8, https://www.researchg­ate.net/public­a­tion/336789937_Race_and_Repres­ent­a­tion_in_Campaign_Finance.

The ranks of the wealth­i­est donors, who domin­ate elec­tions, show stark racial and gender dispar­it­ies. Large donors from the nation’s top contrib­ut­ing major­ity-white neigh­bor­hoods gave more than 10 times more than large donors from the top contrib­ut­ing major­ity-minor­ity neigh­bor­hoods to federal candid­ates from 2010 to 2018, one analysis found. foot­note10_mrr48gc 10 Adam Zibel, Olig­arch Over­load: How Ultra-Rich Donors Have Flooded Amer­ican Polit­ics With Cash Since Citizens United, Public Citizen, Janu­ary 15, 2020, 1, https://www.citizen.org/article/olig­arch-over­load/?eType=Email­Blast­Con­tent&eId=33ce6cd2–22f1–49a4-bc83-d7f0ae5a1d41. Research shows that women are signi­fic­antly less repres­en­ted among donors of more than $10,000 than among donors over­all. foot­note11_rgdpueq 11 Heer­wig and Gordon, “Buying a Voice,” 815. 

The wealthy donor-driven campaign finance system favors white and male candid­ates, who have dispro­por­tion­ately greater access to these networks. foot­note12_7hi6p3h 12 McEl­wee, Schaffner, and Rhodes, Whose Voice, Whose Choice?, 1. Candid­ates who would need to rely predom­in­antly on small donors gener­ally face a disad­vant­age, with excep­tions seem­ing to need to achieve the super­star status of a Rep. Alex­an­dria Ocasio-Cortez. 

Private fundrais­ing networks devoted to increas­ing congres­sional diversity have made a differ­ence, but progress remains a chal­lenge. foot­note13_cnmzzq0 13 Jim Zarroli, “2020 Is The Year Of The Woman Donor: Campaign Contri­bu­tions Surge,” NPR, Septem­ber 3, 2020, https://www.npr.org/2020/09/03/908254716/2020-is-the-year-of-the-woman-donor-campaign-contri­bu­tions-surge. One such group, Emily’s List, has helped women in the Demo­cratic Party launch campaigns for all levels of office. foot­note14_wat2ada 14 Emily’s List, “Emily’s List Recog­nizes Black History Month,” Febru­ary 1, 2020, https://www.emilyslist.org/news/entry/emilys-list-recog­nizes-black-history-month. Still, when it comes to help­ing women of color over­come fundrais­ing disad­vant­ages, the group’s pres­id­ent has said of private networks and party lead­er­ship, “Do we have to do more? Abso­lutely.” foot­note15_juwn­qrl 15 Sheryl Gay Stol­berg, “Tough Choices, and Criti­cism, for Emily’s List as Demo­cratic Women Flood Primar­ies,” New York Times, May 4, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/04/us/polit­ics/emilys-list-midterm-elec­tions.html.

Linda Cole­man, a Black woman who ran in North Caro­lin­a’s 2nd congres­sional district in 2018, told the News & Observer, “The biggest chal­lenge is rais­ing money. We usually repres­ent less afflu­ent communit­ies . . . The money drives the message, so we obvi­ously have a very diffi­cult time navig­at­ing that terrain. There’s a racial gap and a gender gap for Black women.” foot­note16_qo7opza 16 Brian Murphy and Dawn Baumgart­ner Vaughn, “As Voters, Black Women Are Import­ant to Demo­crats. As Candid­ates, Where’s the Support?” The News & Observer, Febru­ary 24, 2020, https://www.news­ob­server.com/news/polit­ics-govern­ment/elec­tion/article240156358.html. Cole­man lost the general elec­tion, coming up hundreds of thou­sands of dollars short of the $2.8 million raised by her white male oppon­ent. foot­note17_herr3sn 17 This stat­istic was calcu­lated through a Bren­nan Center analysis of Federal Elec­tions Commis­sion contri­bu­tions data for House candid­ates who ran in the 2018 general elec­tion.

End Notes

Congressional Small Donor Public Financing Could Reduce Race and Gender Inequities Among Candidates

In March 2019, the House of Repres­ent­at­ives passed the For the People Act (H.R. 1), a sweep­ing demo­cracy reform bill that contin­ues to await Senate approval as of Octo­ber 2020. One of the bill’s provi­sions is a volun­tary small donor public finan­cing program that prom­ises to reduce fundrais­ing barri­ers for congres­sional candid­ates who have less access to wealthy donors. The program would provide $6 in match­ing public funds for each $1 in small dona­tions to candid­ates who choose to parti­cip­ate, can meet certain qual­i­fy­ing require­ments, and abide by stricter rules such as smal­ler contri­bu­tion limits.

Under the program, a $200 dona­tion would get a $1,200 match, making it worth $1,400 to a campaign. A $1,000 contri­bu­tion limit — signi­fic­antly lower than the $5,600 limit in the 2020 elec­tion — would further encour­age candid­ates to raise most of their funds from small donors. To avoid wast­ing public funds, the program would allow only candid­ates able to demon­strate substan­tial public support to parti­cip­ate and would cap the total amount of public funds any candid­ate can receive per cycle.

The reform would empower candid­ates — regard­less of their gender, race, or socioeco­nomic status — to lever­age broad public support and reduce their reli­ance on large donors, while still rais­ing substan­tial sums. This small donor match­ing system partic­u­larly aids women and people of color who tend to rely more on small donors and face systemic disad­vant­ages in access­ing large donors (see Figure 3). But it also enables all candid­ates to strengthen their ties with small donors.

The public finan­cing reform would allow under­rep­res­en­ted candid­ates to raise more compet­it­ive sums of money. Under the program, the aver­age female candid­ate over the past four cycles could have raised $607,605 more while the aver­age male candid­ate could have raised $444,449 more. foot­note1_tnpuaid 1 See Meth­od­o­logy section on page 14 or a detailed explan­a­tion of stat­ist­ical results.  Mean­while, the aver­age candid­ate of color could have raised $427,314 more while the aver­age white candid­ate could have raised $308,978 more. foot­note2_d53k74q 2 See Meth­od­o­logy section on page 14 or a detailed explan­a­tion of stat­ist­ical results. That all types of candid­ates could raise more with this reform does not negate the bene­fit to under­rep­res­en­ted candid­ates of earn­ing more funds to get out their message to voters.

Congres­sional small donor public finan­cing would espe­cially empower women of color, the most disad­vant­aged group when it comes to tradi­tional fundrais­ing. foot­note3_nu7kgtb 3 Center for Respons­ive Polit­ics, Common Cause, and Repres­ent­a­tion 2020, Indi­vidual and PAC Giving to Women Candid­ates, 11; Bryner and Haley, Race, Gender, and Money in Polit­ics, 18. From 2012 to 2018, they consist­ently raised less on aver­age than all other congres­sional candid­ates. foot­note4_ub0y94j 4 This stat­istic was calcu­lated through a Bren­nan Center analysis of Federal Elec­tions Commis­sion contri­bu­tions data for House candid­ates who ran in the 2012–2018 general elec­tions. A public finan­cing program could help narrow that fundrais­ing gap for women of color candid­ates, whose fundrais­ing efforts tend to depend more on small dona­tions.

Apply­ing H.R. 1’s public finan­cing program to 2018 fundrais­ing — the most recent federal elec­tion for which complete data are avail­able — shows its poten­tial to reduce the aver­age defi­cit woman of color candid­ates faced by 34 percent. Though their aver­age fundrais­ing would still lag behind all other categor­ies of candid­ates, the gap would narrow. Because of their partic­u­lar reli­ance on small donors, women of color could have raised 48 percent more on aver­age than under the status quo, while all other candid­ates could have raised 28 percent more on aver­age. These find­ings suggest the reform could have a signi­fic­ant correct­ive effect on race and gender biases entrenched in the tradi­tional campaign finance system.

States and local­it­ies that already offer a public finan­cing option show the reform helps reduce barri­ers for candid­ates who lack deep-pock­eted networks. In Connecti­cut, public finan­cing has helped a more diverse set of candid­ates win state office. foot­note5_iyfd­h19 5 J. Mijin Cha and Miles Rapa­port, Fresh Start: The Impact of Public Campaign Finan­cing in Connecti­cut, Dēmos, April 29, 2013, 13, https://www.Demos.org/research/fresh-start-impact-public-campaign-finan­cing-connecti­cut. Four years after the state’s program began in 2008, Latino repres­ent­a­tion in the state legis­lature reached its highest level and women’s repres­ent­a­tion also grew. Public finan­cing helped empower candid­ates of color in Arizona, where the number of Native Amer­ican and Latino candid­ates nearly tripled after the program was imple­men­ted. foot­note6_1pdldxu 6 Steven M. Levin, Keep­ing it Clean: Public Finan­cing in Amer­ican Elec­tions, Center for Govern­mental Stud­ies, Janu­ary 2006, 7, https://www.poli­c­yarchive.org/handle/10207/4523

New York City’s long­stand­ing small donor public finan­cing program has seen a series of “firsts” for tradi­tion­ally under­rep­res­en­ted candid­ates. foot­note7_654r­prb 7 David Moore, “NYC Progress­ives Coalesce Around Campaign Finance Initi­at­ive”, Sludge, Novem­ber 5, 2018, https://read­sludge.com/2018/11/05/nyc-progress­ives-coalesce-around-campaign-finance-ballot-initi­at­ive/; Hazel Millard, “Another Elec­tion Winner — Public Finan­cing”, Bren­nan Center for Justice, Novem­ber 12, 2018, https://www.bren­nan­cen­ter.org/our-work/analysis-opin­ion/another-elec­tion-winner-public-finan­cing. In its early years, David Dinkins used the program to become New York City’s first Black mayor. foot­note8_p0d6m8t 8 Fred­er­ick A.O. Schwartz, Angela Migally, and Susan Liss, Small Donor Match­ing Funds: The NYC Elec­tion Exper­i­ence, Bren­nan Center for Justice, Septem­ber 17, 2010, 21, https://www.bren­nan­cen­ter.org/sites/default/files/2019–08/Report_Small-Donor-Match­ing-Funds-NYC-Exper­i­ence.pdf. In 2010, now-New York Attor­ney General Leti­tia James, the first Black woman elec­ted to city­wide office, cred­ited public finan­cing for her victory. “The public finan­cing system gave me the oppor­tun­ity to compete and succeed, allow­ing me to repres­ent indi­vidu­als whose voices are histor­ic­ally ignored,” she told the Bren­nan Center. foot­note9_8n8806s 9 DeNora Geta­chew and Ava Mehta, Break­ing Down Barri­ers: The Faces of Small Donor Public Finan­cing, Bren­nan Center for Justice, June 29, 2016, 7, https://www.bren­nan­cen­ter.org/sites/default/files/public­a­tions/Faces_of_Public_Finan­cing.pdf. Today, half of the members of the New York City Coun­cil identify as Black, Asian, or Latino and three-quar­ters of these members ran publicly-funded campaigns. foot­note10_pbpm­n6i 10 New York City Coun­cil, “Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus,” date accessed Octo­ber 2, 2020, https://coun­cil.nyc.gov/caucuses/bla-caucus/; New York City Campaign Finance Board, “Campaign Finance Summary: 2017 City­wide Elec­tions,” date accessed Octo­ber 2, 2020, https://www.nyccfb.info/VSApps/WebForm_Finance_Summary.aspx?as_elec­tion_cycle=2017.

Wash­ing­ton, D.C.’s new small donor public finan­cing program has already been dubbed a “game-changer” for enabling a greater diversity of candid­ates to run. foot­note11_1hxn­qsk 11 Martin Auster­muhle, “Candid­ates Taking On D.C. Incum­bents Say New Public Finan­cing Program Is A Game-Changer,” WAMU, August 9, 2019, https://wamu.org/story/19/08/09/candid­ates-taking-on-d-c-incum­bents-say-new-public-finan­cing-program-is-a-game-changer/ Janeese Lewis George, a Black woman who is running for the first time using the program, told WAMU, “Shir­ley Chisholm said, ‘If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a fold­ing chair.’ And I think Fair Elec­tions [the public finan­cing program] gives more people the oppor­tun­ity to bring a fold­ing chair to the table.” foot­note12_dq5ert8 12 Auster­muhle, “Candid­ates Taking On D.C. Incum­bents Say New Public Finan­cing Program Is A Game-Changer.” 

The reform empowers under­rep­res­en­ted candid­ates to shape how voters see them, accord­ing to Kimberly Peeler-Allen, a polit­ical consult­ant who led fundrais­ing for Leti­tia James’s city­wide public advoc­ate campaign using New York City’s public finan­cing program. Peeler-Allen, the co-founder of Higher Heights, a group dedic­ated to increas­ing the polit­ical power of Black women, said, “I tell candid­ates all the time, ‘I don’t need you to be the top raiser in the race, I need you to meet your budget needs and be able to control your messaging to your voters.’ Public finan­cing helps them do that.” foot­note13_llt8tds 13 The Bren­nan Center conduc­ted an inter­view with Kimberly Peeler-Allen on Septem­ber 14, 2020.

The city­wide match­ing funds program in Berke­ley, Cali­for­nia also enabled a funda­ment­ally differ­ent fundrais­ing exper­i­ence for candid­ates. Rashi Kesar­wani, a woman of color and first-time candid­ate, said that asking community members for $50 as opposed to $250 made fundrais­ing less diffi­cult. foot­note14_8uwmtn7 14 Frances Dinkelspiel, “Public Finan­cing Is Being Used for 1st Time in Berke­ley Elec­tion; How’s It Going So Far?” Berke­ley­side, August 8, 2018, https://www.berke­ley­side.com/2018/08/08/campaign-note­book-how-public-finan­cing-of-city-coun­cil-elec­tions-is-work­ing?doing_wp_cron=1594820836.4101281166076660156250. City Coun­cil­wo­man Lori Droste, who ran for a second term in 2018 using the program, said, “If you have signi­fic­ant Berke­ley support, it makes it much easier to raise money. It makes it easier for people with a lot of grass­roots support to enter races.” foot­note15_zukrh1q 15 Dinkelspiel, “Public Finan­cing Is Being Used for 1st Time in Berke­ley Elec­tion; How’s It Going So Far?”

End Notes

Small Donor Public Financing Will Benefit Constituents and Those Elected to Serve Them

Small donor public finan­cing for congres­sional elec­tions would bene­fit voters and candid­ates, includ­ing incum­bents, alike. It would make a broader swath of Amer­ic­ans, even those who lack great wealth, influ­en­tial in polit­ics as donors. And it would enable elec­ted offi­cials to spend more time and energy on their constitu­ents rather than on court­ing large donors.

Broad­en­ing the ranks of donors could encour­age elec­ted offi­cials to make more broadly repres­ent­at­ive policy choices. Donors enjoy more access to elec­ted repres­ent­at­ives than constitu­ents who do not give campaign money, research shows. foot­note1_hizikfe 1 Joshua L. Kalla and David E. Broock­man, “Campaign Contri­bu­tions Facil­it­ate Access to Congres­sional Offi­cials: A Random­ized Field Exper­i­ment,” Amer­ican Journal of Polit­ical Science 60, no.3 (2016): 553, https://onlinelib­rary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/ajps.12180. See also Eleanor Neff Powell and Justin Grim­mer, “Money in Exile: Campaign Contri­bu­tions and Commit­tee Access,” The Journal of Polit­ics 78, no. 4 (2016), https://www.journ­als.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/686615; James Herndon, “Access, Record and Compet­i­tion as Influ­ences on Interest Group Contri­bu­tions to Congres­sional Campaigns,” Journal of Polit­ics 44, no. 4 (1982), https://www.journ­als.uchicago.edu/doi/10.2307/2130670; J. David Gopoian, Hobart Smith, and William Smith, “What Makes PACs Tick? An Analysis of the Alloc­a­tion Patterns of Economic Interest Groups,” Amer­ican Journal of Polit­ical Science 28, no. 2 (1984): 259–281, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2110873?origin=cross­ref&seq=1. Wealthy white donors, who domin­ate elec­tions under the status quo system, tend to prefer differ­ent policies than most voters in crit­ical areas such as educa­tion, health­care, taxes, and jobs. foot­note2_0iuy156 2 Benjamin I. Page, Larry M. Bartels, and Jason Seawright, “Demo­cracy and the Policy Pref­er­ences of Wealthy Amer­ic­ans,” Perspect­ives on Polit­ics 11, no. 1 (2013): 56, https://faculty.wcas.north­west­ern.edu/~jnd260/cab/CAB2012%20-%20Page1.pdf; Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “Test­ing Theor­ies of Amer­ican Polit­ics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Aver­age Citizens," Perspect­ives on Polit­ics 12, no. 3 (2014): 572–575, https://scholar.prin­ceton.edu/sites/default/files/mgilens/files/gilens_and_page_2014_-test­ing_theor­ies_of_amer­ican_polit­ics.doc.pdf; McEl­wee, Schaffner, and Rhodes, Whose Voice, Whose Choice?, 19; Peter K. Enns et al., The Power of Economic Interests and the Congres­sional Economic Policy Agenda, Schol­ars Strategy Network, 2016, 15, https://schol­ars.org/sites/schol­ars/files/witko_the_power_of_economic_interests_and_the_congres­sional_economic_policy_agenda.pdf. Small donors tend to better repres­ent the aver­age constitu­ent in terms of finan­cial status than large donors. foot­note3_jpis­dds 3 Michael J. Malbin, “Small Donors: Incent­ives, Econom­ies of Scale, and Effects,” The Forum: A Journal of Applied Research in Contem­por­ary Polit­ics 11, no. 3 (2013): 386, 394, https://www.degruyter.com/view/journ­als/for/11/3/article-p385.xml. By incentiv­iz­ing candid­ates to seek contri­bu­tions from a more repres­ent­at­ive pool of support­ers, small donor public finan­cing would help the campaign finance part of the polit­ical process better fit the ideals of a repres­ent­at­ive demo­cracy.

In juris­dic­tions that offer small donor public finan­cing, the programs have incentiv­ized a much larger and more diverse share of the elect­or­ate to parti­cip­ate in the polit­ical process as donors. New York City’s program “brought more low-dollar donors into the system,” lead­ing to a “substan­tial increase not only in the propor­tional role of small donors but in their abso­lute numbers per candid­ate,” a study by the Campaign Finance Insti­tute concluded. foot­note4_p4zz5iz 4 Malbin, Brusoe, and Glavin, “Small Donors, Big Demo­cracy,” 14. And small donors to muni­cipal candid­ates who parti­cip­ated in the city’s public finan­cing program were more likely to be racially and finan­cially repres­ent­at­ive of all city resid­ents than donors to state candid­ates, who did not have access to public finan­cing. foot­note5_kcahjwm 5 Genn et al., Donor‍‍‍‍ Diver­‍‍‍‍s­ity Thr‍‍‍‍ough Public Match­ing Funds, 13.

Connecti­c­ut’s public finan­cing program has trans­formed campaign fundrais­ing for state office. In 2018, state legis­lat­ive candid­ates raised nearly all their funds from indi­vidual donors rather than from organ­iz­a­tions, and a substan­tial portion from small donors. foot­note6_gn6d3og 6 Beth A. Rotman and Lisa Night­in­gale, Ampli­fy­ing Small-Dollar Donors in the Citizens United Era: Connecti­c­ut’s Citizens Elec­tion Program Shif­ted the Balance of Power to the People, Common Cause, Septem­ber 10, 2020, 2, https://www.common­cause.org/connecti­cut/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2020/09/CT_Small­DonorDol­lar_Report_WEB.pdf. Before public finan­cing, candid­ates raised half of their funds from special interest groups such as lobby­ists and PACs. foot­note7_wyrzw07 7 Rotman and Night­in­gale, Ampli­fy­ing Small-Dollar Donors in the Citizens United Era, 2.

Resid­ents of Berke­ley, Cali­for­nia saw donor parti­cip­a­tion increase in every zip code during the city’s first elec­tion cycle with a small donor public finan­cing system. foot­note8_q7q4­ab4 8 Smith, Srid­haran, and Curlin, “2018 Fair Elec­tions in Berke­ley.” In 2013, when Los Angeles first offered a public match­ing funds program, candid­ates raised their funds from a broader set of neigh­bor­hoods compared to previ­ous elec­tions. foot­note9_u23aur6 9 Malbin and Parrot, “Small Donor Empower­ment Depends on the Details,” 243.

What is good for constitu­ents also is good for candid­ates. Office­hold­ers, regard­less of party, have expressed frus­tra­tion about having to spend time court­ing large donors rather than inter­act­ing with constitu­ents under tradi­tional fundrais­ing. foot­note10_8kadoxk 10 “Are members of Congress becom­ing tele­marketers?,” by Norah O’Don­nell, 60 Minutes, CBS, April 24, 2016, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-are-members-of-congress-becom­ing-tele­marketers/; Mark Alex­an­der, “Let Them Do Their Jobs: A Compel­ling Govern­ment Interest in Protect­ing the Time of Candid­ates and Elec­ted Offi­cials,” Loyola Univer­sity Chicago Law Journal 37, no. 4 (2006): 676, https://lawe­com­mons.luc.edu/cgi/view­con­tent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1179&context=luclj; Ciara Torres-Spel­liscy, “Time Suck: How the Fundrais­ing Tread­mill Dimin­ishes Effect­ive Governance,” Seton Hall Legis­lat­ive Journal 42, no. 2 (2018): 273, https://pdfs.semantic­scholar.org/0e14/2cc5f8d29365f0b8534cbe­cab221d18f6cfd.pdf; Ciara Torres-Spel­liscy, “Netflix for Demo­cracy,” Bren­nan Center for Justice, Janu­ary 17, 2019, https://www.bren­nan­cen­ter.org/our-work/analysis-opin­ion/netflix-demo­cracy. Small donor public finan­cing brings fundrais­ing and repres­ent­a­tion closer together. As now-New York Attor­ney General James said of her exper­i­ence using New York City’s public finan­cing program:

“I’m free from the strange­hold of . . . big donors demand­ing meet­ings and policy changes. Every New Yorker . . . know[s] they can come to my door, and their voices will be heard . . . Every elec­ted offi­cial in this coun­try needs the free­dom to repres­ent the interest of Amer­ic­ans. And it is through public finan­cing that we will get one step closer to ensur­ing that our elec­ted repres­ent­at­ives are repres­ent­at­ives of our elect­or­ate.” foot­note11_ji3w3dm 11 Bren­nan Center for Justice, The Case for Small Donor Public Finan­cing in New York State, Febru­ary, 26, 2019, 9, https://www.bren­nan­cen­ter.org/our-work/policy-solu­tions/case-small-donor-public-finan­cing-new-york.

Further, a recent Bren­nan Center analysis found that almost all candid­ates in recent congres­sional elec­tions could have raised as much money — or more — using public finan­cing as they did under the status quo system. foot­note12_tai93su 12 Ian Vandewalker and Kevin Morris, “The Reform Law Needed to Counter Citizens United: H.R.1,” Bren­nan Center for Justice, Janu­ary 21, 2020, https://www.bren­nan­cen­ter.org/our-work/analysis-opin­ion/reform-law-needed-counter-citizens-united-hr-1. The program’s small dona­tion multi­plier effect and low contri­bu­tion limits would make a $200 donor more valu­able to a candid­ate than a $1,000 donor. Voters who could part with only $20 would see a public match of $120 increase their gift’s value to $140 — an amount they could compound by rally­ing neigh­bors. foot­note13_j8csfbw 13 Gareth Fowler and Daniel I. Weiner, Under­stand­ing H.R.1’s Public Finan­cing Provi­sions, Bren­nan Center for Justice, Septem­ber 20, 2019, https://www.bren­nan­cen­ter.org/our-work/research-reports/under­stand­ing-hr1s-public-finan­cing-provi­sions-0.

Research shows that donat­ing to campaigns can be a “gate­way” for constitu­ents to become more polit­ic­ally active. foot­note14_r33427w 14 Spen­cer Over­ton, “The Parti­cip­a­tion Interest,” The Geor­getown Law Journal 100 (2012): 1279, https://schol­ar­ship.law.gwu.edu/cgi/view­con­tent.cgi?article=1167&context=faculty_public­a­tions. Small donors are more likely than large donors to donate their time to campaigns, phone bank­ing, or help­ing to distrib­ute liter­at­ure. foot­note15_r1×235p 15 Peeler-Allen, the polit­ical consult­ant, said, “I have done count­less small-donor fundraisers that doubled as volun­teer recruit­ment oppor­tun­it­ies. This is invalu­able support that comes when people feel that their finan­cial contri­bu­tion matters just as much as their time.” foot­note16_no7pqo8 16 The Bren­nan Center conduc­ted an inter­view with Kimberly Peeler-Allen on Septem­ber 14, 2020.

Small donor public finan­cing has been shown to strengthen the rela­tion­ship between candid­ates and their constitu­ents. New York City candid­ates who opted to use the city’s public finan­cing program in 2017 soli­cited more support from resid­ents of the districts they hoped to serve, and relied more on small donors, than candid­ates who did not parti­cip­ate in public finan­cing. foot­note17_5hqg71z 17 Nirali Vyas, Chisun Lee, and Joanna Zdanys, The Constitu­ent–En­gage­ment Effect of Small Donor Public Finan­cing, Bren­nan Center for Justice,” Septem­ber 9, 2019, 2, https://www.bren­nan­cen­ter.org/sites/default/files/2019–09/Report_Constitu­ent-Engage­ment%20Ef­fect_.pdf  the new public finan­cing system in Mont­gomery County, Mary­land, were able to run their campaigns almost entirely on dona­tions of $150 or less from county resid­ents. By contrast, privately-funded candid­ates raised only 3 percent of their total funds from resid­ents contrib­ut­ing $150 or less. foot­note18_3amo6r1 18 Emily Scarr and Joe Ready, Fair Elec­tions in Mont­gomery County, Mary­land PIRG Found­a­tion, Septem­ber 2019, 1, https://maryland­pirg.org/sites/pirg/files/reports/Fair%20Elec­tions%20in%20Mont­gomery%20County-%20Mary­land%20PIRG%202019_0.pdf.

In New York state, which enacted an ambi­tious small donor public finan­cing program in 2020, State Senator Aless­andra Biaggi wrote that the reform is crit­ical to empower­ing elec­ted offi­cials to respond to the needs of the major­ity of their constitu­ents: “The truth is, if we don’t pay for our elec­ted offi­cials’ campaigns directly, we will most certainly pay indir­ectly, through higher rents, higher health costs, and higher prices on everything else big donors have to sell. So which would you choose?” foot­note19_x4pz­s3s 19 Aless­andra Biaggi, “Deep-pock­eted Donors Hold Sway Over New York Polit­ics, and All of Us Suffer: Sen. Biaggi,” The Journal News/lohud.com, Febru­ary 4, 2019, https://www.lohud.com/story/opin­ion/contrib­ut­ors/2019/02/04/aless­andra-biaggi-new-york-campaign-finance-reform/2747978002/.

End Notes

Conclusion

From the Covid-19 pandemic to law enforce­ment tragedies, events in 2020 have under­scored the hard­ships dispro­por­tion­ately borne by Black and Latino Amer­ic­ans, and low-income famil­ies, often helmed by women. foot­note1_b8hd6u8 1 Sher­ita Hill Golden, “Coronavirus in African Amer­ic­ans and other People of Color,” Johns Hopkins School of Medi­cine, April 20, 2020, https://www.hopkinsmedi­cine.org/health/condi­tions-and-diseases/coronavirus/covid19-racial-dispar­it­ies; “The Fire This Time – Police Viol­ence, Race and Protest in Amer­ica,” The Econom­ist, June 4, 2020, https://www.econom­ist.com/lead­ers/2020/06/04/police-viol­ence-race-and-protest-in-amer­ica; Sarah Jane Glynn, Bread­win­ning Moth­ers Continue to be the U.S. Norm, Center for Amer­ican Progress, May 10, 2019, https://www.amer­ic­an­pro­gress.org/issues/women/reports/2019/05/10/469739/bread­win­ning-moth­ers-continue-u-s-norm/. But voters of all back­grounds express concern about the outsized influ­ence of wealth in polit­ics and want a demo­cracy that is respons­ive to every­one’s needs. foot­note2_9dbjuop 2 Daniel Hensel, “New Poll Shows Money in Polit­ics Is A Top Voting Concern,” Issue One, June 29, 2016, https://www.issueone.org/new-poll-shows-money-in-polit­ics-is-a-top-voting-concern/; Brad­ley Jones, “Most Amer­ic­ans Want to Limit Campaign Spend­ing, Say Big Donors Have Greater Polit­ical Influ­ence,” Pew Research Center, May 8, 2018, https://www.pewre­search.org/fact-tank/2018/05/08/most-amer­ic­ans-want-to-limit-campaign-spend­ing-say-big-donors-have-greater-polit­ical-influ­ence/.

Small donor public finan­cing can help meet voters’ desires for a more repres­ent­at­ive demo­cracy. Though it is by no means a complete fix for the historic inequit­ies that drive the current under­rep­res­ent­a­tion of women and people of color in Congress, it is an effect­ive step forward. The $6-to-$1 small donor match will boost candid­ates who rely more on small donors, even as it enables all candid­ates to raise compet­it­ive sums from a more repres­ent­at­ive donor base.

As import­ant, the reform will spur a greater diversity of Amer­ic­ans to parti­cip­ate in the polit­ical process as donors, while free­ing elec­ted offi­cials to spend more time with their constitu­ents and less time seek­ing large dona­tions. This closer align­ment of fundrais­ing with governance makes small donor public finan­cing a crucial part, along with improve­ments to voting and redis­trict­ing, of federal reform to strengthen our repres­ent­at­ive demo­cracy.

End Notes

Methodology

Data Selec­tion

This study analyzes the fundrais­ing records and demo­graph­ics of major-party general elec­tion candid­ates from 2012 through 2018. The Federal Elec­tion Commis­sion and the Center for Respons­ive Polit­ics provided House fundrais­ing data. Bern­ard L. Fraga, an asso­ci­ate professor of polit­ical science at Emory Univer­sity who special­izes in U.S. elect­oral polit­ics, racial and ethnic polit­ics, and polit­ical beha­vior, provided House candid­ates’ race and gender data. He and other experts coded this data­set through analysis of candid­ate websites, press releases, and voter file-based model­ing. foot­note1_sgbdgu8 1 For a detailed explan­a­tion of the coding meth­od­o­logy Dr. Fraga used in creat­ing the candid­ate demo­graphic data­set, See Bern­ard L. Fraga, “Separ­at­ing Race and Party in Congres­sional Elec­tions (Work­ing Paper),” June 9, 2020, 1 (Appendix), https://www.drop­box.com/s/854s­vzc8pju75fo/Race­PartyCan­did­ates_060920.pdf?dl=0. Frag­a’s book, The Turnout Gap: Race, Ethni­city, and Polit­ical Inequal­ity in a Diver­si­fy­ing Amer­ica, relies on this data­set. foot­note2_on5cm1m 2 Bern­ard L. Fraga, The Turnout Gap: Race, Ethni­city, and Polit­ical Inequal­ity in a Diver­si­fy­ing Amer­ica, (Cambridge: Cambridge Univer­sity Press, 2018), https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/turnout-gap/1B79B19C880A93C462F­D1D­F22F65D­D15.

We exclude Senate candid­ates from analysis because the small sample size of women and people of color in this group would not allow for reli­able conclu­sions, as just a few outlier candid­ates would skew mean find­ings. Out of the 283 major-party general elec­tion candid­ates for Senate who ran from 2012 through 2018, only 72 were women and 26 were people of color. By contrast, out of the total 3,328 candid­ates who ran for the House during the same period, 733 were women and 687 were people of color (See Figure 1). A combined analysis of House and Senate candid­ates would also lead to unre­li­able results, since Senate candid­ates must appeal to a much wider set of constitu­ents and donors than House candid­ates.

This analysis also focuses solely on general elec­tions due to a lack of reli­able demo­graphic data for candid­ates who ran in primary elec­tions. We exclude from analysis third-party candid­ates because they are not likely to garner the wide public support required to qual­ify for match­ing funds under H.R. 1. foot­note3_uftqbzx 3 Paul S. Herrn­son, “Minor-Party Candid­ates in Congres­sional Elec­tions,” in The Market­place of Demo­cracy: Elect­oral Compet­i­tion and Amer­ican Polit­ics, ed. Michael P. McDon­ald and John Samples (Wash­ing­ton, DC: Brook­ings Insti­tu­tion Press, 2006), 107, https://www.brook­ings.edu/book/the-market­place-of-demo­cracy/.

Analysis and Model­ing of H.R. 1’s Public Finan­cing Provi­sions

The primary ques­tion of this study is whether the public finan­cing provi­sions in H.R. 1, which are designed to reward candid­ates for enga­ging with small donors, could advance racial and gender equity in campaign fundrais­ing. Meas­ur­ing candid­ates’ small donor support is there­fore crucial to this study but is not straight­for­ward because the Federal Elec­tion Commis­sion does not disclose indi­vidu­al­ized donor data for contri­bu­tions below $200. The lack of indi­vidu­al­ized data makes it impossible to determ­ine the precise number of small donors to federal campaigns. There­fore, to meas­ure candid­ates’ small donor support, we instead used candid­ates’ share of total fundrais­ing from small dona­tions, which is fully repor­ted by the Federal Elec­tion Commis­sion.

The compar­ison of aver­age small-donor support by candid­ate demo­graph­ics in Figures 2 and 3 controlled for district-level dynam­ics by analyz­ing by contest where a female candid­ate opposed a male candid­ate (562 contests) and where a candid­ate of color opposed a white candid­ate (403 contests). Using two-tailed t-tests, a common social science method for detect­ing stat­ist­ical signi­fic­ance, we found robust differ­ences in aver­age small donor reli­ance between male and female candid­ates and between white candid­ates and candid­ates of color.

We also conduc­ted multivari­ate regres­sion analysis to test other confound­ing vari­ables against our main predictor vari­ables. Even when we controlled for elec­tion year, compet­it­ive­ness (accord­ing to ratings of “toss up” or “lean” by the Cook Polit­ical Report), and party, we found that race and gender were stat­ist­ic­ally signi­fic­ant predict­ors of small donor reli­ance among House general elec­tion candid­ates.

We made several common-sense assump­tions in model­ing the impact of H.R. 1’s public finan­cing provi­sions on candid­ates’ fundrais­ing in the House districts that allowed compar­ison of female candid­ates, candid­ates of color, and women of color candid­ates to their white and/or male coun­ter­parts (see Figures 3 and 4). foot­note4_kqno10x 4 This model is adap­ted from an earlier Bren­nan Center analysis. See Ian Vandewalker and Kevin Morris, “The Reform Law Needed to Counter Citizens United: H.R.1,” Bren­nan Center for Justice, Janu­ary 21, 2020, https://www.bren­nan­cen­ter.org/our-work/analysis-opin­ion/reform-law-needed-counter-citizens-united-hr-1. First, the model assumed parti­cip­a­tion by all candid­ates who would raise as much or more money under public finan­cing. The model made no changes to nonpar­ti­cipant candid­ates’ contri­bu­tions, who dispro­por­tion­ately relied on large donors.

Second, under the program, the largest matched contri­bu­tion ($200) would be worth more to candid­ates than the largest private contri­bu­tion ($1,000). Accord­ingly, the model converts all contri­bu­tions of $200 or more into matched $200 contri­bu­tions. Contri­bu­tions of less than $200 remain the same and are matched. Third, for those candid­ates who earn the maximum amount of public funds, the model conver­ted all contri­bu­tions greater than $1,000 after the candid­ate hit the maximum to $1,000, assum­ing the candid­ate would switch to soli­cit­ing the maximum private contri­bu­tion.

End Notes

About the Authors

Nirali Vyas was a research and program asso­ci­ate in the Demo­cracy Program at the Bren­nan Center for Justice and is a J.D. candid­ate at Vander­bilt Univer­sity Law School. At the Bren­nan Center, she conduc­ted quant­it­at­ive and qual­it­at­ive research about public campaign finan­cing and other elect­oral reforms in New York state and at the federal level. Previ­ously she worked at the Social Science Research Coun­cil and completed intern­ships at the Ford Found­a­tion and the Trenton Preven­tion Policy Board. She gradu­ated from The College of New Jersey in 2016 with a B.A. in econom­ics and polit­ical science. There she led a team of research­ers and faculty in a study she designed to determ­ine the socioeco­nomic effects of aban­doned prop­erty follow­ing the subprime mort­gage melt­down in Trenton, New Jersey. 

Chisun Lee is deputy director of the Bren­nan Center’s Elec­tion Reform Program, where she works to advance money-in-polit­ics reform and improve elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion. She leads strategy and research for policy initi­at­ives, legis­lat­ive campaigns, public­a­tions, litig­a­tion, and public advocacy. She has authored or co-authored nation­ally recog­nized reports, and writes and comments for outlets such as the New York Times and Wash­ing­ton Post. She has provided policy advice to federal, state, and local legis­lat­ors across the coun­try and taught as an adjunct professor at NYU School of Law.

Before her current work at the Bren­nan Center, Lee repres­en­ted indi­gent crim­inal defend­ants in federal court. Previ­ously she served as a law clerk to the Honor­able Gerard E. Lynch in the U.S. District Court for the South­ern District of New York.

Lee also worked in journ­al­ism and govern­ment. She covered legal issues and won numer­ous honors as a staff reporter for ProP­ub­lica and previ­ously the Village Voice. Prior to becom­ing a journ­al­ist, Lee was press secret­ary to a city­wide elec­ted offi­cial in New York City. She received her J.D. from Harvard Law School and gradu­ated magna cum laude from Brown Univer­sity with a degree in history.

Gregory Clark is a research and program asso­ci­ate in the Demo­cracy Program at the Bren­nan Center for Justice, where his work focuses on money-in-polit­ics reform and expand­ing parti­cip­a­tion in the polit­ical process. Previ­ously he completed intern­ships with the Voting Section of the United States Depart­ment of Justice, Emer­son Collect­ive, and Brook­lyn Legal Services Corpor­a­tion A, a non-profit hous­ing law firm. He gradu­ated in 2020 from Stan­ford Univer­sity with a B.A. in polit­ical science.

Acknowledgments

The Bren­nan Center grate­fully acknow­ledges Change Happens Found­a­tion, Ford Found­a­tion, Lisa and Douglas Gold­man Fund, The William and Flora Hewlett Found­a­tion, The JPB Found­a­tion, Kohl­berg Phil­an­throp­ies, The Leo Model Found­a­tion, Mertz Gilmore Found­a­tion, Open Soci­ety Found­a­tions, The Over­brook Found­a­tion, Charles H. Revson Found­a­tion, Rock­e­feller Broth­ers Fund, and the WhyNot Initi­at­ive for their gener­ous support of our work.

The authors wish to thank a number of indi­vidu­als outside of the Bren­nan Center for their gener­ous contri­bu­tions of schol­arly resources and expert­ise. Bern­ard L. Fraga, asso­ci­ate professor of polit­ical science at Emory Univer­sity, provided demo­graphic data about congres­sional candid­ates, without which this analysis would not have been possible. Kimberly Peeler-Allen, co-founder of Higher Heights and visit­ing prac­ti­tioner at the Center for Amer­ican Women and Polit­ics at Rutgers Univer­sity, contrib­uted extens­ive comments. Sarah Bryner, director of research and strategy at the Center for Respons­ive Polit­ics, also provided valu­able feed­back.

The authors also are grate­ful to current and former colleagues at the Bren­nan Center for their assist­ance. Lawrence Norden and Michael Wald­man provided over­all edit­or­ial insight. Fellow Neil Chaturvedi, asso­ci­ate professor of polit­ical science at the Cali­for­nia State Poly­tech­nic Univer­sity, Pomona, offered extens­ive meth­od­o­lo­gical guid­ance. Kevin Morris and Peter Miller also contrib­uted meth­od­o­logy advice. Sonali Seth provided substan­tial research assist­ance during a legal intern­ship. Hazel Millard also contrib­uted research assist­ance. Ian Vandewalker provided edit­or­ial and meth­od­o­lo­gical feed­back. Daniel Weiner and Joanna Zdanys offered comments. And the commu­nic­a­tions expert­ise of Lisa Benen­son, Matthew Harwood, Jeanne Park, Alden Wallace, Alex­an­dra Ringe, Tim Lau, Zachary Laub, Justin Charles, Rebecca Autrey, Josh Bell, and Lisa Vosper, made design and public­a­tion of this analysis possible.