By Democracy Intern Matthew Flyr
The House Administration Committee is considering legislation this week that would repeal the presidential public financing system and the financing system for conventions, and close the Election Assistance Commission. If passed, these bills would pose a significant threat to the integrity of our campaign finance and election systems.
Our campaign finance system is plagued by inequalities, especially the influence of big money and special interest money that crowds out the voices of ordinary citizens. Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, for example, gave $52.2 million to Super PACs in the 2012 cycle, which is just 0.21% of their net worth. It would take more than 322,000 average American families donating an equivalent share of their wealth ($162) to match the Adelsons’ giving alone.
This lop-sided spending threatens to drown out the voice of the public. On the other hand, public financing for presidents and conventions, when done in a way that encourages more small donors to give to candidates and parties, can help balance out the influence of that big money and engage more citizens in the democratic process.
Unfortunately, the bills being considered this week - H.R. 94 and H.R. 95 - eradicate public financing for conventions while allowing big money donations from special interests. Thus, these bills exacerbate the undue influence of special interests while eliminating a channel to encourage a more democratic and equal campaign finance system.
These bills would damage a campaign finance system already hurting after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which brought unprecedented levels of corporate influence into our elections. For-profit businesses contributed $34.2 million to Super PACs in the 2012 cycle, accounting for 11% of total Super PAC fundraising. The 2012 election highlighted the need for alternative means of campaign finance that value small donors over corporations.
H.R. 94 and 95 would also threaten the integrity of the voting process by closing the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). The EAC was created by the Help America Vote Act to ensure the efficiency of the voting and registration processes. If fully staffed, they could modernize our voting system, making it easier for every citizen to participate in the democratic process on Election Day.
During the 2012 elections, we saw exactly why the nation needs the EAC, when many Americans experienced difficulties while registering to vote and casting ballots. Excessively long lines, for example, drove down voting in some areas, preventing Americans from practicing one of their most basic rights.
Congress needs to oppose H.R. 94 and 95. Instead, they should work to fix the presidential public financing and convention financing system, and to strengthen the EAC. If these bills are passed, the integrity of our campaign finance and election systems will be placed in jeopardy.
What we need is repair, not repeal. Congress should support a system that matches small contributions to presidential campaigns and prevents the use of soft money to pay for conventions. They should also strengthen the EAC, allowing the agency to better perform its essential functions that ensure fair and accurate voter registration and voting.
In doing so, they can help protect the public’s voice in our elections.