by Robyn Blumner
Here are some things we know to be true:
1) The economic struggles of average working people are not being addressed by the country's political system.
2) Politicians have to spend an inordinate amount of time angling for campaign dollars, and when donors and lobbyists hand over big checks, big favors are expected in return.
3) These issues are related.
What we don't know is what to do about it.
On this front, the
For decades, reformers have focused on keeping big money out of politics. Most would agree, it's always found a way in. In the last presidential election, the first one post-Citizens United, hundreds of millions of dollars from super PACs and secretive nonprofits went to prop up the candidates, mostly to benefit Mitt Romney. The 2010 ruling that recognized a First Amendment right of corporations and unions to make unlimited independent political expenditures energized the nation's plutocrats to invest (and I mean invest with an expected return) in politics like never before.
Round two is on deck. Last month, the
Don't be discouraged. There is an alternative to putting limits on big money and that is to amplify the voice of small money. It's a simple yet effective concept: empower small donors through a multiple-match system of public financing. New York City is already doing it and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing for it statewide.
Here's how it works: Donations made by New York City residents up to
Suddenly candidates have an impetus to ask their own constituents from all socio-economic classes for campaign donations rather than rely on wealthy donors who may not even be in their district.
Proof of its democratizing effect comes from a joint study by the
By studying donor patterns in the city's census blocks -- groupings of people who live in a localized area -- researchers found that in almost 90 percent of census blocks at least one person, and often many, gave
Who gave was also different. In some of the city's poor black, Asian and Hispanic areas, small donor participation rates were up to 24 times higher in city council races than state assembly ones.
Los Angeles recently adopted a
One key is that there be no spending limits as a condition of participation -- otherwise front-runner candidates may refuse to join. But by broadening the base, maximum contribution limits for candidates who opt in can be lowered. The public money spent on the match will come back in multiples once political leaders aren't beholden to hand out sweetheart deals to lobbyist donors, Skaggs says.
Multiple-match public financing has the potential to deliver a government that takes the side of the people, not the side of money. On that hope alone, it's worth a try.
Campaign Finance Reform Brings About Strategic Shifts | Politics