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May 2018, Week 3

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 		 [If elections are wealthy interests versus voters, the counter to
the power of Big Money is to increase voters’ financial power.]
[https://portside.org/] 

 DOLLARS FOR DEMOCRACY: ANTIDOTE TO BIG MONEY IN POLITICS  
[https://portside.org/node/17218] 

 

 Russ Feingold and Ro Khanna 
 May 15, 2018
The Concord Monitor
[http://www.concordmonitor.com/Getting-big-money-out-of-politics-17448454]


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 _ If elections are wealthy interests versus voters, the counter to
the power of Big Money is to increase voters’ financial power. _ 

 , 

 

Our democracy has long been ransomed by wealthy donors and powerful
special interests. Wealthy donors account for a disproportionate
amount of the $6.8 billion spent in the 2016 election. Cynicism about
politicians working only for special interests and wealthy donors
isn’t so much cynicism, but simply the truth for too many elected
officials.

The American people are fed up with a government that taxes them but
doesn’t work for them. This frustration is turning into calls to
action for reform.

Democratic congressional candidates are heeding the call, pledging not
to accept corporate political action committee donations. Prospective
2020 Democratic presidential contenders have also made similar
commitments to reject corporate PAC money.

The rise of super PACs and dark money has been fueled by controversial
Supreme Court rulings. Our highest court first breathed life into what
amounts to the modern version of political corruption in the 1976
case _Buckley v. Valeo_, in which it ruled that “independent”
expenditures used to purchase political communication represented a
form of speech protected by the First Amendment. In other words, money
equals speech, no matter the quantity or corrosive effect. This
judgment put a “for sale” sign on the lawn of our democracy.

The Supreme Court further handed our democracy to corporate interests
in its 2010 Citizens United decision, which translated economic
inequality into political inequality – an unacceptable distribution
of power in a country where the top one-tenth of 1 percent of families
own as much financial wealth as the bottom 90 percent. For most
Americans, saving for college tuition or retirement is hard enough;
political donations, even of 20 or 50 dollars, are a luxury they
can’t afford.

One goal of the campaign finance reform movement must be to reverse
Citizens United. In the meantime, we can counter the corrosive effect
of special interest money on the integrity of elections. If elections
are wealthy interests versus voters, the counter is to increase the
voters’ financial power.

If McCain-Feingold was the campaign finance gold standard of its time,
the Democracy Dollars Act is the boldest campaign finance proposal
today. The act provides every registered voter 50 “Democracy
Dollars” – $25 for presidential elections, $15 for Senate and $10
for House campaigns.

This may seem like pocket change, but multiply it by the hundreds of
thousands of people who vote and suddenly those Democracy Dollars
could help counter the super PACs and dark money.

The plan is to reduce the influence of big money in politics, but
without violating Citizens United, which while incorrect is still
legal precedent for the time being. Even in this legal climate, the
Democracy Dollars Act would bring balance to special interest
contributions with the financial power of voters.

Democracy Dollars would go further than past attempts at public
financing. Grant-matching systems like New York’s, which offers
six-to-one matching on individual donations up to $1,050, help to
close the gap between the wealthy and those with less. But too many
Americans are unable to afford any kind of contribution.

Giving registered voters a voucher for campaign donations turns each
into a donor to whom politicians must listen. This incentivizes
candidates to fight for every voter’s contribution instead of
skipping over them and catering to the wealthiest. The Democracy
Dollars Act nationalizes the Democracy Dollars model successfully
implemented in Seattle and being considered elsewhere in the country.

If money is wrongly defined as speech, we must amplify the voices of
the plurality of Americans so they are heard over the roar of the top
one percent. The American people deserve a system where their voice
matters.

Recent Pew Research Center data shows that only 18 percent of
Americans trust their government “always or most of the time.” In
1968, that number was 62 percent. Would anyone deny the need for bold
action to address the trust deficit in American democracy itself?

The Democracy Dollars model offered in the Democracy Dollars Act
reclaims our democracy from special interests’ influence and
protects the integrity of American elections, while respecting the
Supreme Court’s current interpretation of money as speech. Our hope
is every candidate running in 2018 supports it and that it becomes a
standard part of the 2020 platforms. The alternative is for candidates
to readily admit they pray at the altar of big money and are
comfortable doing so.

_(Russ Feingold represented Wisconsin in the United States Senate from
1993-2011 and was the co-author of the McCain-Feingold campaign
finance reform bill signed into law in 2002. Ro Khanna, D-San Jose,
represents Silicon Valley and is the author of the Democracy Dollars
Act.)_

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