Bipartisan Commission Releases Recommendations for Money in Politics Reform

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Report CoverFrom redistricting reform to a five-day work week for Congress, a new report from the Bipartisan Policy Center Commission on Political Reform, chaired by a handful of former Democratic and Republican lawmakers, lays out dozens of recommendations to reduce polarization and gridlock in Washington and restore Americans’ faith in the political process.

Specifically, the report calls out our broken campaign finance system, noting that,  “Members of Congress and others running for office spend too much time fundraising, which crowds out the time for legislating.”

And that “the lack of confidence in the current system of funding campaigns extends far beyond Washington’s political insiders to average citizens who worry about the effects of money on politics.”

The report offers three main recommendations to address the issue (pages 45-51):

  1. Increased disclosure of outside or independent groups spending money on elections. “[I]t is essential that there be full, robust, and timely disclosure of all political activity so that citizens have full information on which to judge political messages,” the report states.*
  2. Members of Congress should not be allowed to use leadership PAC funds for personal use and only leaders should be able to have them. Leadership PACs are no longer just a way to build support with colleagues, but often serve simply as a slush fund for free trips and fancy meals. “While curtailing leadership PACs would not reduce to zero the time members spend fundraising, it would represent a good first step in freeing up additional time for legislative matters,” the report states.
  3. Establish a Bipartisan National Task Force on Campaign Finance. The report suggests a “national conversation” on the role of money in politics, including the creation of a task force made up of “academics, election experts, former officials, and most importantly, concerned citizens—to engage in an in-depth study of our campaign finance system and make recommendations for reform.”

In addition to these recommendations, which are interesting and worthy of discussion, the report listed a handful of areas for additional study and one in particular stuck out—“broadening the participation of the American people” through increased small donations.

Hey, that sounds a lot like what we work on!

The report links to a study on the success of New York City’s matching funds program that has empowered a broader, more diverse group of New Yorkers to participate in city elections. A handful of other states have variations on small donor public financing programs—from city council to the state house to judicial races—that have helped hundreds of candidates run and win elected office without relying on big money donors. 

In the House, there’s a bipartisan solution modeled on that system, and similar public financing programs. Congressman John Sarbanes’ Government By the People Act (HR 20) combines a refundable tax credit on small donations and a six-to-one match on donations of $150 or less. A similar bill, the Fair Elections Now Act, has been introduced in the Senate. These bills would give everyday people a bigger voice in politics and encourage candidates to spend more time raising money back home instead of from Wall Street or Washington lobbyists.

The report calls for a “national conversation” on money’s influence in politics. If they truly want to empower more people in politics, then the Government By the People Act and Fair Elections Now Act should be part of the discussion.

*It’s probably good to mention here that former Sen. Olympia Snowe, co-chair of the commission, voted against the DISCLOSE Act, legislation that would’ve provided some additional disclosure of outside spending that this report supports. It failed to overcome a filibuster by one vote.