The Empowering Citizens Act, sponsored by Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), is the most comprehensive campaign finance reform legislation in Congress. The legislation would repair the presidential public financing system, create a public financing system for congressional races, shut down individual-candidate super PACs and strengthen the rules prohibiting coordination between candidates and outside spending groups.
The Times editorial supporting the Act said the legislation “would sever the informal relationships between ‘super PACs’ and the candidates they support, and use federal matching money to encourage small contributions to presidential and Congressional candidates.”
The Post editorial supporting the Act said the legislation contains “antidotes to big money in politics” including provisions that “would encourage small donations by creating a 5-for-1 federal matching fund system in both congressional and presidential campaigns.” The editorial also said the Act would “eliminate the candidate-specific super PACs, such as Mitt Romney’s Restore our Future and President Obama’s Priorities USA, that did the most to shred the fiction of independent expenditures.”
A later New York Times editorial (August 17, 2013) supporting the Act said, “The sleazy flow of cash cries out for a public financing system for Congressional elections that would give more power to small donors, along the lines of the Empowering Citizens Act, introduced by two Democrats, David Price of North Carolina and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.”
A New York Times editorial on August 4, 2014, said that individual-candidate super PACs “could be shut down if Congress would pass the Empowering Citizens Act, a bill introduced in the House that would put strict limits on these kinds of coordinated contributions.”
The Empowering Citizens Act allows ordinary Americans to play a central role in financing presidential and congressional elections by matching small contributions from individuals up to $250 per donor with multiple public funds on a 6 to 1 basis. Federal candidates who participate in the matching funds system have to agree to limit the contributions they receive from individuals to $1,000 per donor, per election.
The matching funds system would greatly magnify the importance of ordinary Americans in financing federal elections and would provide federal candidates with an alternative way to run for office without being indebted to their funders.
The Empowering Citizens Act also includes provisions to shut down individual candidate super PACs and to strengthen the rules prohibiting coordination between outside spending groups and the candidates they support.
Individual candidate super PACs operate as arms of the candidate they support. They are vehicles for supporters to circumvent and eviscerate the candidate contribution limits by giving unlimited contributions to the super PAC supporting that candidate.
The Act defines coordination between a candidate and a super PAC to include elements that establish close ties between the candidate and the super PAC. Once such coordination is established, all future expenditures by the super PAC to support the candidate are treated as coordinated with the candidate. Under federal law coordinated expenditures are defined as also being in-kind contributions and are subject to the PAC contribution limit of $5,000 per year.