Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD) put another potential reform law on the table for congressional campaign finance. Importantly, this is the first proposal to directly combat the huge influence of Super-PACs. Alongside the Fair Elections Now Act, the DISCLOSE Act, and a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, Sarbanes is placing “The Grassroots Democracy Act” which would institute a voucher system to increase grassroots campaign donations.
In a summary document Sarbanes’ office provided to the Washington Post, he outlines the skyrocketing costs of campaigns, which contribute to, “a broken system where members of Congress must be fundraisers first and legislators second.” He identifies broad public support for reform and offers a three-part solution.
The bill has three components. The first is a voucher of the kind Ackerman, Ayres and Lessig endorse, implemented as a $50 refundable tax credit for congressional donations, so even people who do not make enough to pay income taxes are eligible. The second is a matching system, where campaigns that reject PAC money will get $5 from a public fund for every private donation of $1, and those that agree to collect only small contributions receive $10 from the public fund for every private dollar. The third is a fund to provide support to candidates who are facing heavy third-party expenditures from super PACs and other groups, to make sure they aren’t drowned out.
The Grassroots Democracy Act though, doesn’t have much chance to go anywhere in the Republican-controlled House. However, Sarbanes hopes that November may change the political landscape, and the voucher program could be one of several serious options to reign in the influence of Super-PACs and special interests.
“I think there’s every reason to have a number of different proposals being put forward that are saying, ‘Public financing makes sense, here’s one version of it, here’s another version of it.’ And that then becomes a strong overarching narrative, and then when you get to the stage of being able to maybe really move forward and make this happen, you have a number of different things you can choose from. .. and you can craft something that will have broad support.”