Public Financing of Elections
Big donors and special interests have come to dominate the financing of American elections.
Candidates rely on donations from a handful of wealthy donors, while super PACs increasingly exert an outsized influence on our elections. As a result, elected officials are more responsive to large donors than to their constituents.
Public financing is a promising way to amplify the voices of all citizens in a democracy of, by, and for the people.
A well-designed program can create an incentive for candidates to fundraise and connect with the people they seek to represent. And this translates to a donor base that looks more like the fabric of the community, rather than a handful of wealthy elites, because we deserve a real democracy.
Public financing refers to government programs that provide limited public funds to candidates for campaign expenses. To receive public funds, candidates often must agree to certain restrictions like accepting only small-dollar private contributions, limiting campaign expenditures, and participating in public debates.
The first public financing programs were enacted following the Watergate scandal of the 1970s. Since then more than thirty jurisdictions have adopted some form of public financing, including states like Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, and Michigan, and local governments like New York City, Seattle, Albuquerque, Washington, DC and Montgomery County, Maryland, among many others.
Different public financing programs leverage public money in different ways. Some states and localities make lump-sum grants to candidates; others provide tax benefits to citizens to incentivize political giving.