STOPPING THE CORRUPTION OF MONEY IN POLITICS

ABSTRACT: There’s good news on multiple fronts in the effort to stop the corruption of big money in US political campaigns. In the US House, the Government by the People Act (HR 20) has been introduced. It would match small donations – up to $150 – from individuals 6 to 1 so that, for example, a $25 donation would be worth $175 to a candidate running for Congress. In addition, every person who files an income tax return could get a $25 credit for small donations to Congressional candidates. A similar bill, the Fair Elections Now Act, has been introduced in the US Senate.

Meanwhile, last November, the IRS put out proposed regulations to severely limit political activity by tax exempt, non-profit organizations, which spent $300 million on political activities in the 2012 elections. Such regulations would be a huge step toward ending the huge amounts of “dark money” – where the source was hidden – that flowed into campaigns in 2012.

These reforms of our campaign finance system are a critical step in moving back toward the fundamental principle of one person, one vote. In the current system, it’s dollars that matter. In various ways, big donors buy election results. The Supreme Court has ruled that the money of the wealthy and corporations cannot be limited or regulated, because it is speech. Therefore, we must amplify the voices of the rest of us and require disclosure of all campaign contributions and spending. Otherwise, the integrity and legitimacy of our democracy is threatened, and people will justifiably conclude that the system is rigged and that their voices and interests are being drowned out by the money of wealthy individuals and corporations.

FULL POST: There’s good news on multiple fronts in the effort to stop the corruption of big money in US political campaigns. Bills have been filed in Congress to amplify and encourage the voices and money of small donors. The IRS has proposed rules that would require greater disclosure and limit political spending by tax exempt groups.

In the US House, the Government by the People Act (HR 20) has been introduced with 130 House members as co-sponsors (out of 435 total members). It would match small donations – up to $150 – from individuals 6 to 1 so that, for example, a $25 donation would be worth $175 to a candidate running for Congress.

To qualify for the matching funds, a candidate would have to raise $50,000 in contributions of $150 or less from at least 1,000 donors in their home state. The candidate could not accept contributions of more than $1,000, could not accept PAC money, and would be strictly limited in the use of their own money in the campaign.

In addition, every person who files an income tax return could get a $25 credit for small donations to Congressional candidates. (A similar tax credit existed from 1972 to 1986.) Disclosure laws would be tightened so the source of all contributions would have to be publicly disclosed. [1][2]

A similar bill, the Fair Elections Now Act, has been introduced in the US Senate. It shares the goal of super-sizing the influence of small donors and allowing candidates to run competitive races for Congress while relying on small donations from regular people.

You can get lots more information and all the details of these bills here (http://ofby.us/) and sign on as a citizen co-sponsor here (http://ofby.us/citizen-cosponsor/).

Forty groups have already endorsed this legislation: good government groups such as Common Cause, public interest groups such as the US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, labor unions such as the National Education Association and the Communications Workers of America, and civil rights groups such as the NAACP.

Campaign funding systems that match small contributions, as the bills in Congress would, are already in place in states from Maine to Arizona and in New York City. They amplify the voice of small donors and blunt the impact of large donations. This allows average citizens to run competitive campaigns. As a result, the number of people running and the competition for elected offices has increased where these matching systems are in place. This results in greater representation of the common interest and reduced influence for special interests.

Meanwhile, last November, the IRS put out proposed regulations to severely limit political activity by tax exempt, non-profit organizations. Abetted by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, non-profit, tax exempt “social welfare” organizations spent $300 million on political activities in the 2012 elections. They can accept unlimited donations and do not have to disclose donors. They can run political ads, engage in other political activities, and make grants to other “social welfare” groups. Although the tax code says these organizations, known as 501(c)(4)s, cannot be engaged primarily in political activity, they easily got around this by claiming the ads and other activities were not political and had some kind of educational or civic purpose.

After ignoring this political activity for years, the IRS has now proposed excluding “candidate-related political activity” from the definition of social welfare activities. This would ban a wide range of political activities, unless they meet a strict nonpartisan test. Such regulations would be a huge step toward ending the huge amounts of “dark money” – where the source was hidden – that flowed into campaigns in 2012. These regulations on political activity should apply to any group, organized under any section of the IRS rules, that doesn’t have to disclose contributors, including business leagues (such as chambers of commerce) and unions. [3]

These reforms of our campaign finance system are a critical step in moving back toward the fundamental principle of one person, one vote. In the current system, it’s dollars that matter; 84% of the time the candidate with the most money won election to the House in 2012. Money also determines who runs and big donors drown out the voices of ordinary citizens in campaigns. In various ways, big donors buy election results.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the money of the wealthy and corporations cannot be limited or regulated, because it is speech. Therefore, we must amplify the voices of the rest of us (which the two bills in Congress will do) and require disclosure of all campaign contributions and spending. Otherwise, the integrity and legitimacy of our democracy is threatened, and people will justifiably conclude that the system is rigged and that their voices and interests are being drowned out by the money of wealthy individuals and corporations.

My next post will give examples of campaign spending that illustrate the need for reforms.


 

[1]       Hight, C., 2/6/14, “Government by the people, not the polluters,” The Huffington Post

[2]       Lioz, A., Feb. 2014, “The Government by the People Act,” Demos (http://www.demos.org/publication/government-people-act)

[3]       The Editorial Board, 2/18/14, “Change the rules on secret money,” The New York Times

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