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Campaign Finance Reform is Necessary to Secure our Democracy – States Aren’t Waiting

By RaShawn Hall , July 27, 2018

The tolerance for campaigns influenced by large sums of dark money is slowly diminishing within the country. Citizens are actively working to reclaim their voices that have been drowned out by money.

Across the country, voters in their individual states have made their voices heard at the ballot boxes and shown the need for reform of our current campaign finance system. Many might ask, “What is the problem with our current campaign finance system?” The answer is simple: large contributions given by wealthy people and special interest groups to elected officials result in them making political decisions which are more favorable to large donors. Under our current system, the collective concerns of citizens are weakened because of candidates’ tendency to listen more closely to the interests of people who able to make larger contributions. Voters have begun to recognize this problem and have used their constitutional right of voting and advocacy to make positive change. States and municipalities such as: South Dakota, San Francisco, CA, Baltimore, MD, and Montgomery County, MD serve as examples of campaign finance reform supported by the public.

South Dakota’s Initiated Measure 22, brings about a full overhaul of the state’s campaign finance laws by:

  • Creating a “Democracy Credit” public financing system

    • This was established to promote and empower small donor giving by allowing registered voters to receive $50 “credits” to give to participating state or legislative candidates.
  • Establishing limits on contributions from donors

  • Improving Disclosure

    • Organizations making independent expenditures must disclose individual contributions of more than $100.

The enactment of new legislation to reform our current campaign finance systems is happening more rapidly throughout the country. Like South Dakota and Baltimore, MD, many state/local campaign finance reforms often include some type of public funding system such as a Small Donor Matching Program. This program matches small contributions to qualifying candidates with public funds typically if they forego big or non-local donations.

Other states improving Election Integrity

The San Francisco City Commission initiated regulations that would limit contributions to a candidate to no more than a cumulative amount of $3,000 within a calendar year.

In 2014, the Massachusetts State Legislature enacted disclosure laws that promote more transparency to voters during the campaigning season. Voters should know what narrow special interests are funding campaigns. This piece of legislation (S.2264) ultimately requires SuperPACs and other groups making independent expenditures to disclose their donors and increases the amount of required disclosure reporting during campaign periods.

Whether initiated on the local, state, or even national level, leveling the playing field for campaign funding tends to result in:

  • Greater racial and class diversity among donors

  • Increased number of low-dollar donors and constituent participation

  • More women running for office

  • More quality time with average constituents

  • Better policies as a result

Both reforming the way private money flows in our elections and demanding transparency are essential to ensure that the voices of all voters are equally respected. Our elected officials should continuously seek to amplify the voices of everyday citizens. They should especially prioritize the economically disadvantaged, marginalized, and the under-represented. Choosing to ignore the need for comprehensive campaign finance reform is not only an approval of the current notion that “money talks” during campaigns, but it is also a validation that only the interests of the deepest-pockets matter. The voice of small donors, big donors, or non-donors should be considered equally. That’s how we build a society with equity and justice for all.

RaShawn Hall

  • 2018 Summer Intern

RaShawn Hall is a Political Science Major at Tuskeegee University. RaShawn will work with José and the Domestic Policy Team on issues of mass incarceration and election integrity.