by Félix Pérez/Image courtesy of P.O. Arnäs
Seeking to restore the principle of one person, one vote, more than 100 members of Congress introduced legislation last week to lessen the disproportionate influence of Super PACs and anonymous corporate donors in congressional elections.
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“Whether it’s jobs, education, health care or the environment, big money politics warps Congress’s priorities and erodes the public’s trust in government,” said Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD), the legislation’s lead sponsor. “We need a government of, by and for the people – not bought and paid for by big money donors and special interests.”
To date 131 members of Congress, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have signed on as cosponsors of HR 20, Government by the People Act of 2014.
In an opinion column in The Washington Post, Sarbanes and Pelosi wrote:
We know that if the role of money in our elections were reduced and the level of civility in our politics increased, the result would be the election of more women, more minorities, more young people and more people dedicated to serving the public interest, not special interests.
They continued, “From Seneca Falls, N.Y., to Selma, Ala., generations of Americans have stood up against seemingly insurmountable status quos that denied their voices and their votes. Today’s generation, too, must have the courage to take back our politics.”
Super PACs have been the subject of withering criticism because of their lack of disclosure and their ability to accept unlimited donations from corporations, thereby making it more difficult for ordinary Americans to have a say in the electoral process. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling made it legal for corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence federal elections. The court’s decision opened the door to the creation of Super PACs.
“We must disclose the sources of the money in our campaigns, amend the Constitution to reverse the grievous error of the Citizens United decision, reform our broken campaign finance system and empower citizens everywhere to exercise their right to vote,” wrote Sarbanes and Pelosi.
According to ProPublica, an independent, non-profit investigative news service, 67 individuals contributed $1 million or more in the 2012 election cycle to Super PACs. The single largest donor was casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who contributed $38.5 million to Republican Super PACs. He was followed by his wife Miriam Adelson, who gave $25 million.
The largest corporate Super PAC contributor was Contran Corporation, which contributed $4 million in the 2012 cycle.
Here’s how it works:
- Empower everyday Americans to participate: The bill would provide Americans with a $25 refundable My Voice tax credit to help spur small-dollar contributions to candidates for congressional office.
- Amplify the voice of everyday Americans: Establish a Freedom From Influence Fund to multiply the impact of small-dollar donations ($150 or less). Donations of $1 to $150 to participating candidates would be matched on a six-to-one basis. For those candidates who agree to take only small-dollar donations, the $50 contribution can become a $500 contribution, matched at a rate of 9 to 1.
- Reduce the influence of special interests: It will allow candidates to run competitive campaigns for office even with the threat of Super PACs or anonymous groups. Participating candidates who are able to raise at least $50,000 in additional small-dollar donations within the 60-day “home stretch” of the general election would be eligible for additional resources.