Democracy 21 Endorses the Empowering Citizens Act Introduced by Representatives David Price and Chris Van Hollen

Bill Empowers Citizens Making Small Contributions to Play Key Role in Financing Federal Elections, Defines Super PACs Operating as Arms of Candidates as Coordinated and Illegal

Statement of Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer

Democracy 21 strongly endorses the comprehensive campaign finance reform legislation introduced yesterday by Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

Other original co-sponsors of the bill include Representatives Walter Jones (R-NC), John Larson (D-CT), Robert Brady (D-PA), John Sarbanes (D-MD) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA).

The symbol of federal elections should be ordinary citizens, not Sheldon Adelson.

The Empowering Citizens Act (H.R. 6448) is legislation to empower citizens to play a central role in financing both presidential and congressional elections by matching small contributions from individuals up to $250 per donor with multiple public funds on a 5 to 1 basis. In return candidates who participate in the matching funds system would agree to abide by a limit on contributions from individuals reduced to one-half of the $2,500 contribution per donor, per election they can currently accept.

By empowering small donors, the Act will dilute the role and importance of influence-seeking money, reduce the opportunities for government corruption and provide candidates with an alternative way to finance their campaigns without having to sell their souls to their funders.

The Act combines the Presidential Funding Act (H.R.414) introduced earlier this year by Representatives Price and Van Hollen to repair the presidential public financing system with a new proposal to create a similar small donor empowerment system for congressional races.

The Act builds on the successful small donor empowerment system used to finance New York City elections and on a report and proposal issued last month by Democracy 21 and the Brennan Center to establish a small donor matching funds system for congressional races. It is also similar to a proposal that is the subject of a major reform effort underway in New York State for a small donor matching funds system for New York state elections.

The Act’s matching funds system means that citizens will control the distribution of public funds.

There is no spending limit in the Act for candidates who participate in the matching funds system. Spending limits are no longer viable as a practical matter in the post-Citizens United world where outside groups can make unlimited campaign expenditures using unlimited contributions.

The Act includes the first comprehensive proposal to override the ineffectual coordination regulations adopted by the FEC. This includes provisions to eliminate candidate-specific Super PACs that in reality are arms of the candidates they are supporting, such as Restore Our Future, which is supporting Mitt Romney and Priorities USA, which is supporting President Obama.

Under the legislation, these kinds of candidate-specific Super PACs are defined as coordinated with the candidates they support. Since coordinated expenditures are treated under existing law as in-kind contributions to the candidate, this limits the amount a candidate-specific Super PAC can spend on behalf of the candidate to the $5,000 a PAC can contribute to a candidate. This would, in effect, end the kind of candidate-specific Super PACs used in the 2012 presidential elections. The legislation also strengthens the rules prohibiting coordination between candidates and other Super PACs and outside spending groups.

The Act also contains an important proposal to strengthen the ability of candidates to respond to spending by outside groups in their campaigns. National parties would be permitted to coordinate with candidates participating in the system to make unlimited party expenditures in support of those candidates, provided the party spending came from a pool of contributions to the party limited to $1,250 per donor per year.

The Act prohibits candidates from soliciting any funds for a Super PAC or for a 527 organization that is not registered as a federal political committee and that can receive unlimited contributions.  Currently, as interpreted by the FEC, candidates and officeholders and their agents can solicit funds for a Super PAC or a non-federally registered 527 group as long as they indicate they can only ask for contributions in amounts that comply with federal contribution limits. This has allowed wink and nod fundraising by federal officeholders and other candidates of unlimited contributions for Super PACs. Such fundraising would be prohibited by the Act.

The disastrous Citizens United decision has unleashed unlimited expenditures by groups using unlimited contributions from millionaires, billionaires, corporations and others.

The Empowering Citizens Act is designed to counter these funds by dramatically increasing the role and importance of small donors in financing federal elections. Ongoing breakthroughs in small donor online fundraising and recent FEC rulings that facilitate online giving will enhance the effectiveness of the small donor empowerment program

Citizens will not stand by and allow a small number of very wealthy individuals, corporations and  powerful interest groups to dominate the financing of our elections and to corrupt government decisions with influence-seeking money.

A small donor revolution in American politics is essential to protect the integrity of our democracy.

The Empowering Citizens Act is key to achieving this goal.