A group of 60 wealthy donors, including many top Democratic donors, sent a letter to Congress on Friday calling on lawmakers to limit the power rich individuals and corporations can have in elections.
“We who sign this letter raise and give substantial sums for elections,” the letter reads. “In federal and in many state and local elections, and even elections for state courts, extraordinarily wealthy individuals and powerful corporations exercise vastly outsized influence. We urge you to fix today’s broken campaign finance laws.”
The letter was signed by such Democratic supporters and fundraisers as Naomi Aberly — who bundled $500,000 for President Obama in 2012 — Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist; Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s; David DesJardins, an early Google employee; president of Stride Right footwear Arnold Hiatt; investor Alan Patricof; and Jonathan Soros, the son of George Soros.
The great influence of wealthy donors leads to many pitfalls, the signatories allege: Lawmakers are too dependent upon special interests, they focus too much on fundraising, and the American people are losing trust in their representatives.
In order to curtail the power of the wealthy, the letter calls for broad reform to the public finance system that includes tax credits, vouchers, and publicly funded matching funds for small donations. Public financing must be “adequately funded to allow candidates to rely on small donations and public funds and run a financially competitive campaign,” they say.
Representative John Sarbanes (D., Md.) introduced the Government by the People Act on Wednesday that would, if passed, implement a measure of public financing seemingly agreeable to the letter-writers. The act would create a “Freedom from Influence Fund” to match contributions of up to $150 at a six-to-one ratio and would provide a $25 tax credit for small contributions. Candidates who vow to only take small donations would receive $9 of public funds for every $1 in private donations.
Republicans in Congress have not expressed much interest in pushing the bill. But Sarbanes is hopeful: “I think we can build something that will be bipartisan over time,” he said. “It may not pass in this Congress — I’m not that naive. But when the window presents, we’ll have a very strong coalition and strong momentum behind this. I think it can be successful.”
— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.