In Democrats’ First Bill, There’s A Quiet Push To Make Public Campaign Finance A Reality

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The Intercept

The first bill Democrats plan to move in January when they take control of the House will mark a major step forward on a longstanding progressive goal: public financing of congressional campaigns. 

The provision is a largely overlooked part of a sweeping anti-corruption bill Democrats plan to start the year with and will be bestowed with the symbolic designation of HR1. The program, based on Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes’s “Government By the People Act of 2017,” would offer subsidies for individuals who want to make small contributions to political candidates. And eligible candidates would qualify for matching contributions that vary based on a candidate’s agreement to restrictions on how they finance their campaigns.

Combined with the broad surge of small-dollar contributions — Democrats alone raised more than $1 billion that way in 2018 — the public financing system would dramatically reshape the political economy of federal politics. 

“Public financing programs, one of their big goals is increasing participation,” Aaron McKean at the Campaign Legal Center told The Intercept. A second goal is “changing how our public officials actually engage with voters or with their constituents,” he said. ome say that the idea creates unintended pressures that encourage fraud and misuse of public funds, instead of enhancing the overall integrity of the system.

“I think that you could say that, sort of the alternative to that does the same thing to a higher level though,” said Austin Graham at the Campaign Legal Center. In the current system, he said, “candidates relying on what we would call a privately financed campaign are going to have the same benefits in terms of established networks. And they can actually raise money to much larger amounts. Whereas with the voucher program, at least the program basically directs the focus of the candidates to their prospective constituents.”

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