Campaign Finance Reform

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the situation

It must be stated that the increasing polarization of the two parties is due in large part to the increased influence of single-issue special interest groups, private donors, and corporate lobbyists.

These groups have the money to commandeer the policy positions of a candidate or political party, forcing our representatives to take an extreme position on an issue without any room for compromise, civility or sanity.

In order to achieve parity between the needs of the American people and the needs of large money donors, we must implement sensible reforms to our system of campaign financing.


here's what we're doing about it

 

policy solutions

-STRENGTHEN THE DEFINITION OF “COORDINATION” BETWEEN SUPERPACS AND CAMPAIGNS: There must be a stricter definition of coordination between candidates and SuperPACs. Under these stricter terms, the definition of coordination would include things such as SuperPACs being created at the suggestion of a candidate, SuperPACs being managed by someone who has been involved with the candidate in past political activities or consultations, or SuperPACs using the services of the same professional person or organization as the candidate.

-CORPORATIONS MUST SOLICIT SHAREHOLDER APPROVAL FOR ALL POLITICAL EXPENDITURES: This provision should have been included in the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” ruling. A PAC (Political Action Committee) should advocate the interests of its contributors. But can we say that corporate SuperPAC contributions truly reflect the political opinions of a company’s shareholders? Often, the shareholders are not consulted before a corporation spends their money on political activities. It is quite possible that many of the shareholders would not agree with these expenditures (as shareholders are people with differing political views).

-ADDRESS CONFLICTS OF INTEREST ARISING FROM CORPORATE DONORS WITH FOREIGN OWNERSHIP: With the increased influence of big money and corporations, it is essential that we reevaluate the potential influence of foreign interests who may attempt to infiltrate our political system via their corporate political contributions. The DISCLOSE Act sought to ban political expenditures from corporations with 20 percent or more foreign ownership. Such a provision is absolutely necessary and justified.

-BAN BUNDLING ACTIVITIES, ORGANIZING FUNDRAISERS OR OTHER MEANS OF AGGREGATING CONTRIBUTIONS, IF THE ENDEAVOR UTILIZES LOBBYISTS OR LOBBYING ORGANIZATIONS IN ANY MANNER: Many lobbyists and lobbying firms actively “bundle” campaign contributions for candidates. This means that they aggregate contributions from numerous individuals and organizations and forward that bundle of money to the candidate. This makes those lobbyists and their agendas very influential to that politician. This practice must be eliminated and this prohibition should include lobbyist efforts to organize fundraisers, donor dinners, meet and greet events, etc.

-CREATE A FIVE-YEAR BAN ON MEMBERS OF CONGRESS WORKING FOR LOBBYING FIRMS: Sadly, serving the people is not a calling for some politicians. It is a job interview for a future six or seven figure career with a lobbying firm. While in office, these politicians actively pursue the legislative agenda of a particular industry. Then, they leave office and work for the very business interests that they supported while in office. This practice must be abolished.

-BAN FUNDRAISING DURING WORK HOURS: Retired politicians will tell you with visible disgust about their former daily routine of begging for money over the phone. Most of their day is spent fundraising, not advancing the interests of their constituents. There must be a law against fundraising during work hours. They should be focused on our needs during that time. They should not be focused on fundraising.

-END GERRYMANDERING: The only solution to the problem of gerrymandering is to utilize independent commissions to evaluate redistricting. Such commissions can ensure that district lines are based on growing or declining populations, not on whether certain voters are desirable or undesirable for the party that is breaking up the districts. By doing this, we can get back to the intended political system in which voters choose their representatives rather than politicians choosing their voters. The current system used by many states is contrary to democracy and to everything that America stands for.

-INCREASE THE MATCHING FUNDS RATIO FOR PUBLIC CAMPAIGN FINANCING: Public financing involves a matching funds provision. Small donations (defined as between $150 and $250 depending on which public campaign funding bill you consult) have previously been matched on a 1 for 1 basis with federal dollars, meaning that each dollar raised by a candidate would be matched by one federal dollar up to a ceiling of $150 or $250 per donation. So, each dollar of a donation below the ceiling would be matched, doubling its value. This made it more lucrative for candidates to pursue a group of small donors, giving average Americans a chance to compete for influence against wealthy donors. While this worked when every candidate ran a public campaign, today’s campaigns require an increased matching funds ratio in order to compete with the SuperPACs.


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policy solutions

STRENGTHEN THE DEFINITION OF “COORDINATION” BETWEEN SUPERPACS AND CAMPAIGNS:

There must be a stricter definition of coordination between candidates and SuperPACs. The Supreme Court’s support of unlimited political expenditures from SuperPACs is entirely contingent on those SuperPACs being completely independent of campaigns. There are strict limits on direct contributions to campaigns, candidates and political parties because without such provisions wealthy donors would purchase candidates like products. The Supreme Court understands this, but they feel that an individual, corporation or labor union should not have their free speech limited by the government if they decide on their own that they want to support a candidate or policy with totally independent expenditures.

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Therefore, if an eccentric billionaire wants to spend hundreds of millions of dollars of his own money to tell the world that they should vote for candidate John Doe, he has a right to do that. But he only has that right if he has nothing to do with candidate John Doe. This is important. Any contact between the SuperPAC donors and the candidates will undermine the Supreme Court’s intent and result in an intentional effort to evade the legal limits on direct campaign contributions, allowing SuperPAC donors to purchase candidates.

Currently, SuperPACs and candidates coordinate in a number of different ways which should violate our campaign finance laws. The definition of coordination must be expanded to address these practices. Under these stricter terms, the definition of coordination would include things such as:

-SuperPACs being created at the suggestion of a candidate.

-SuperPACs being managed by someone who has been involved with the candidate in past political activities or consultations.

-SuperPACs using the services of the same professional person or organization as the candidate.

All of these methods of coordination are currently used without penalty, to circumvent the most important aspect of a SuperPAC which is the prohibition of contact with a candidate or campaign. If these provisions were enforced in the 2016 election, perhaps all but a few of our candidates would have been forced to end their campaigns.

CORPORATIONS MUST SOLICIT SHAREHOLDER APPROVAL FOR ALL POLITICAL EXPENDITURES:  

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This provision should have been included in the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” ruling. A PAC (Political Action Committee) should advocate the interests of its contributors. But can we say that corporate campaign contributions truly reflect the political opinions of a company’s shareholders? Often, the shareholders are not consulted before a corporation spends their money on political activities. It is quite possible that many of the shareholders would not agree with these expenditures (as shareholders are people with differing political views). Corporations should be required to solicit approval from their shareholders before engaging in any campaign contribution activities. This would also create an opportunity for shareholder activism as even someone with only one share in a corporation could protest the proposed political expenditures.

ADDRESS CONFLICTS OF INTEREST ARISING FROM CORPORATE DONORS WITH FOREIGN OWNERSHIP:

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With the increased influence of big money and corporations, it is essential that we reevaluate the potential influence of foreign interests who may attempt to infiltrate our political system via their corporate campaign contributions. The DISCLOSE Act sought to ban political expenditures from corporations with 20 percent or more foreign ownership. Such a provision is absolutely necessary and justified. If an organization is primarily controlled by foreign interests, that organization should not be allowed to influence American political campaigns. Clearly, such an organization is not interested in what is best for America. Rather, they would most likely pursue the interests of the foreign owners. This consideration is extremely important and must be implemented in all future election cycles.

BAN BUNDLING ACTIVITIES, ORGANIZING FUNDRAISERS OR OTHER MEANS OF AGGREGATING CONTRIBUTIONS, IF THE ENDEAVOR UTILIZES LOBBYISTS OR LOBBYING ORGANIZATIONS:

Many lobbyists and lobbying firms actively “bundle” campaign contributions for candidates. This means that they aggregate contributions from numerous individuals and organizations and forward that bundle of money to the candidate. This makes those lobbyists and their agendas very influential to that politician. This practice must be eliminated and this prohibition should include lobbyist efforts to organize fundraisers, donor dinners, meet and greet events, etc. It is bad enough that these groups work seven days a week to drown out our voices in Washington. They should not be in charge of getting a candidate reelected as well. They would still be allowed to exercise their free speech by contributing to a campaign as an individual, but they would not be allowed to bundle contributions and thus amplify their influence over a candidate.

CREATE A FIVE-YEAR BAN ON MEMBERS OF CONGRESS WORKING FOR LOBBYING FIRMS:

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Sadly, serving the people is not a calling for some politicians. It is a job interview for a future six or seven figure career with a lobbying firm. While in office, these politicians actively pursue the legislative agenda of a particular industry. They present bills that are favorable to that industry and pressure others to support those bills. Then, they leave office and work for the very business interests that they supported. This practice must be abolished. There must be a five-year ban on public servants working for lobbying firms. We must end the revolving door between Congress and the lobbyists. Public service must be a calling, not a chance to sell out the American people for a higher salary.

BAN FUNDRAISING DURING WORK HOURS:

Retired politicians will tell you with visible disgust about their former daily routine of begging for money over the phone. Because of the substantial funds needed in today’s political campaigns, as soon as a candidate enters their office they must begin raising money for their next campaign.

Not only does this cheapen our government, it means that our representatives are not doing the job that we pay them to do. They are spending their time fundraising. There should be a law against fundraising during work hours. They should be focused on our needs during that time. They should not be focused on fundraising.

END GERRYMANDERING:

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While Republicans have recently come under fire for this practice due to their significant victories in state legislatures around the country, there is no indication that Democrats want to end the practice of gerrymandering and impede their party from doing the exact same thing in the future. Gerrymandering is devastating to our political process not because of partisan advantages, but because it removes the competition from our democracy and creates monopolies. When a monopoly is created in government, just like in capitalism, it leads to poor service and increased inefficiency. This means that even if you are a Democrat and your party has successfully gerrymandered your district to keep it Democrat, your representative has no reason to help you or your community. You may think that they will do what you want because they have the same party label as you, but they are politicians and they only take initiative when forced to do so. Without competition, it is irrelevant if your district is locked in as Republican or Democrat. You will undoubtedly find your representatives to be less and less responsive to your needs with each passing year.

The only solution to the plague of gerrymandering is to utilize independent redistricting commissions to evaluate redistricting. They can ensure that district lines are based on growing or declining populations, not on whether certain voters are desirable or undesirable for the party that is breaking up the districts. By doing this, we can get back to the intended political system in which voters choose their representatives rather than politicians deciding who can vote for them. The latter option is contrary to democracy and to everything that America stands for. Whether you are a Republican or Democratic voter (or Independent), you are supposed to have the real power in our government. Gerrymandering is a significant means of politicians depriving you of your power regardless of which political party is doing it.  

INCREASE THE MATCHING FUNDS RATIO FOR PUBLIC CAMPAIGN FINANCING

Public financing involves a matching funds provision. Small donations (defined as between $150 and $250 depending on which public campaign funding bill you consult) have previously been matched on a 1 for 1 basis with federal dollars, meaning that each dollar raised by a candidate would be matched by one federal dollar up to a ceiling of $150 or $250 per donation. So, each dollar of a donation below the ceiling would be matched, doubling its value. This made it more lucrative to pursue a group of small donations. While this worked when everyone ran a public campaign, today’s campaigns require an increased matching funds ratio in order to compete with the SuperPACs.

A one-for-one match will no longer work. Because the Supreme Court has ruled that money is free speech, the American people need our voice to be amplified. A higher ratio is needed. Some have suggested 5 to 1 or even 6 to 1 matching provisions. This is necessary if we want to compete with the power of SuperPACs. There would still be a ceiling on how much of each contribution would be matched, such as only the first $250 (everything between $250 and the $2,700 contribution limit per individual would still go to the candidate but would not be matched). This encourages candidates to pursue small donations. One $250 donation could be matched at a 5 to 1 ratio. Now, a room full of regular folks with small donations becomes as lucrative as a room full of billionaires because donations from both groups would end up falling in the same window. A small donation of $250 matched at 6 to 1 would be nearly as valuable as the largest allowable donation from a wealthier donor.

Candidates would also need to raise an initial number of donations in order to qualify for the program. Someone could not raise $1,000 worth of donations from a few friends and get matching funds. Different programs have different thresholds but usually the idea is that the candidate must raise around $50,000 from a pool of over 1,000 donors.

There would also be a ceiling for the total amount that would be matched in this way. Once a candidate raised, for example, $150 million in matching funds, they would no longer have any more donations matched by federal funds (obviously, there must be some limits otherwise the burden on the federal funds would be too great). After that ceiling, candidates could continue accepting small donations but they would no longer be matched.

The incentive to obtain small donations (attractive due to their matching federal dollars) means that the candidates must look to us, and increase their interaction with the people, rather than hosting galas for billionaires. Public campaigns have resulted in more diverse and widespread contributions, thus increasing participation among average Americans and bringing the focus of the politicians back to us.

It’s important to note that these plans allow candidates to continue raising funds after they have reached the matching fund ceiling. Many candidates have abandoned the current public finance system because after they use the matching funds provisions during the primary, they are then given a flat grant to use in the general election and are prohibited from raising more donations. This issue must be addressed as it is a reason for the disfavor of public campaign financing among politicians. The flat grant must be modernized in a manner that allows candidates to be more competitive in the general election. No candidate will choose to utilize public financing in its current form because the grant cannot compete with other methods of financing campaigns.

It is also important to note that Americans must place a premium on candidates who are willing to run a publicly funded campaign. As there will be a ceiling on matching funds, publicly funded campaigns will still place candidates at a disadvantage in terms of spending power (although they can still raise small donations after reaching that ceiling in an updated public funding system). Americans must give preference to candidates that are willing to forego big money donors in favor of publicly funded campaigns. The same must be true in Congressional races, state level races and local races.