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Expert Brief

Understanding H.R.1’s Public Financing Provisions

H.R.1’s public finance reforms represent the best hope for bringing about the transformative changes that voters demanded in 2018.

Published: September 20, 2019

One of the signature provisions in H.R.1, the For the People Act of 2019, is small donor public financing. The small donor provisions of H.R.1 would use public funds to amplify small private contributions to participating federal candidates. Small donor public financing 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 public financing 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 demanded in 2018 and which Congress 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 public financing.

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.

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