Most Americans already see the financing of the 2012 elections as a national disgrace and a scandal in the making. The one saving grace is that scandal begets reform.
It comes in the form of a new bill, the “Grassroots Democracy Act,” introduced by U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and dozens of other lawmakers who are co-sponsors in a rare but telling display of congressional camaraderie largely absent from Capitol Hill these days.
The Sarbanes bill would provide an option for candidates to receive public funds that match small donations. In exchange, campaigns would accept some limits to other types of fundraising. This would provide incentive for candidates to rely on voters for support, instead of big corporations and wealthy individuals. In addition, the bill would provide for a refundable tax credit for small contributions and the disclosure of the identities of all bundlers.
Americans are growing increasingly disgusted with all the secret slush funds flowing into our elections and the over-saturation of negative advertising this money buys. More than eight in 10 Americans in a recent poll by The Associated Press and the National Constitution Center support limits on the amount of money given to groups that are trying to influence U.S. elections. Most Americans are also justifiably repelled by the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which largely gutted limits on campaign money and opened the floodgates for unlimited and undisclosed corporate spending in our elections.
The time for sweeping reforms will be ripe following the all-time record-breaking spending we will see in the 2012 elections, in which the sources of much of that money will come from secret corporate donors who want something in return.
Reps. John Larson (D-Conn.), David Price (D-N.C.) and other co-sponsors of similar comprehensive reform measures that also would match small donations with public funds have expressed their support of the Sarbanes initiative, and Sarbanes has returned the favor by co-sponsoring their legislation. The members are hoping to meld their campaign finance reform proposals into a single legislative vehicle for a concerted reform drive in the next Congress.
Public Citizen proudly joins in this effort to rein in the abuses of excessive, undisclosed money in politics and heartily endorses the Sarbanes “Grassroots Democracy Act” and the joint legislative campaign reform drive in the next Congress.
Craig Holman, PhD is Public Citizen’s Congress Watch government reform lobbyist