Brennan Center Applauds Introduction of Empowering Citizens Act

September 21, 2012

Brennan Center Applauds Introduction of Empowering Citizens Act
Act Builds on Brennan Center Proposal

Contact:  Seth Hoy,, 646-292-8369

September 21, 2012

New York – The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law endorses the Empowering Citizens Act (H.R. 6448) introduced by Representatives David Price and Chris Van Hollen to reform our out-of-control campaign finance system.

Introduced late Thursday, the Act would encourage campaign contributions from small donors through a public matching fund program and greatly reduce the role of big money in politics.

"The Empowering Citizens Act’s small donor matching system would revolutionize the way campaigns are financed in this country,” said Adam Skaggs, senior counsel at the Brennan Center. "The system encourages candidates to rely on small, non-corrupting donations from regular voters, instead of contributions from mega donors seeking influence, access, and legislative favors.  The small donor empowerment plan will also encourage a larger, more diverse group of citizens to become engaged in the political process.”

The Empowering Citizens Act would enact a voluntary program that provides a 5-to-1 match on small contributions up to $250 — yielding $500 in public funds for a $100 contribution for a participating candidate.  The Act would also lower contribution limits for participating candidates by 50%, and while the amount of public funds available to participating candidates would be limited, the Act would impose no expenditure limits.

The Act builds on proven small donor matching systems like New York City’s public financing law, as well as proposal issued in August by the Brennan Center for Justice and Democracy21, entitled Empowering Small Donors in Federal Elections.

The proposed small donor empowerment system does not end all private fundraising or spending by independent groups, but it places citizens in complete control over the distribution of public funds to candidates and the amounts they receive. Public funds would be distributed based on the ability of candidates to show on an ongoing basis continuing support from small donors in their states. Such a system would encourage candidates to focus on mobilizing their constituents instead of lining up special interest fundraisers.

The Empowering Citizens Act would also modernize the presidential public financing system and strengthen the coordination rules applicable to candidates and Super PACs, prohibiting the kind of nominally independent groups that accept unlimited donations but function as de facto arms of candidates’ campaigns.

The proposal builds on other efforts to address the influence of big money in politics—including the Fair Elections Now Act sponsored by Rep. John Larson and the Grassroots Democracy Act recently introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes—and provides the blueprint for a small donor revolution that will restore ordinary citizens to their rightful, preeminent role in our democracy.

For more information on how a small donor matching program would work, read the Brennan Center and Democracy21’s proposal and watch a video.