When it comes to fighting big money in politics, there is no silver bullet. Rather, we need a comprehensive set of reforms that can work together to fix our out-of-balance system. These reforms include:
Because the Supreme Court has left our lawmakers unable to set common-sense limits on money in politics, in the long run we need either a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United, or Supreme Court justices who will change the Court’s approach to this issue. Efforts are well underway in nearly every state in the nation to push for an amendment, and across the country millions of Americans have signed petitions in support. Among people of all political backgrounds, including majorities in red states, support for overturning Citizens United is strong.
Small Donor Public Financing
In order to make sure that everyone can participate in our democracy, we need legislation to empower small donors by providing public funds to amplify small donations through vouchers or matching funds. These types of policies can be established even before we pass a constitutional amendment, and in fact, are already working in places like Maine, Connecticut, and New York City. Beyond encouraging candidates to rely more on everyday Americans and less on wealthy special interests, these programs also serve to empower and engage people from diverse economic and racial backgrounds who may not have been political donors before.
Disclosure of Political Spending
Because of a lack of disclosure laws, today it is impossible to fully “follow the money” in our elections. Organizations that don’t have to disclose their donors, for example, spend hundreds of millions of dollars in our elections. To ensure that everyone is able to know who is trying to influence our views and our elected representatives, we need legislation to require increased disclosure of political spending. This kind of transparency would allow journalists and advocates to connect the dots between those giving political money and policy outcomes that may benefit those private interests.
Real Enforcement of Campaign Finance Rules
Campaign finance laws are only as effective as their enforcement. Unfortunately, the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the agency tasked with enforcing our money in politics laws and disclosing information on money in elections, is continually gridlocked and unable to fulfill its mission. As one FEC commissioner put it, “The few rules that are left, people feel free to ignore.” In the future, only those who are serious about the enforcement of campaign finance laws should be appointed to the commission.