$1,000,000,000 and Counting

November 5, 2012
Dear Friends, 

Big money political spending is officially now in overdrive having eclipsed the $1 billion mark.

Political groups – including Super PACs, tax exempt “social welfare organizations,” and traditional PACs – have now spent over $1 billion in the 2012 election cycle. Super PACs and other outside groups are popping up all over the country and using their millions to influence the outcome of House and Senate races. Never before have outside interests had so much influence on our Congressional elections. Said plainly, special interest money is becoming the biggest factor in determining who represents the people in Washington.

If these groups are determining the outcome of campaigns, they will also influence what policies are pursued after the election. Post-Citizens United campaign spending is fundamentally changing how our democracy functions – taking the power away from the people and handing it over to the special interests with the largest checkbook.

We must create a new way of funding campaigns that empowers everyday Americans to take back our system – one that is citizen owned, grassroots funded and accountable to the people. That’s why I introduced the Grassroots Democracy Act (H.R. 6426) – a three-pronged reform to put the public interest ahead of special interests.

The legislation would empower Americans to participate in elections by providing them with a $50 refundable tax credit. That means the first $50 taxpayers contribute to the Treasury will come right back to them to be used in support of the candidates they think would best represent their interests.

It would also encourage candidates to shift their focus from traditional fundraising to grassroots fundraising. In our current system, a winning Congressional election costs upwards of $1.3 million – a number that continues to grow at record pace – making it impossible for candidates to focus on people who can only contribute $10 or $20. The Grassroots Democracy Act would provide multiple matching funds for candidates who forego PAC contributions and work to earn broad-based support from grassroots donors in their district. That turns a $10 contribution into a $60 contribution – based on a matching rate of $5 to $1. For candidates who agree to take only grassroots donations (no PAC contributions and only donations less than $100 from individuals), the $10 contribution can become $110 – based on a matching rate of $10 to $1.

Finally, the Grassroots Democracy Act establishes what we are calling the “People’s Fund” – a citizen-owned response to the special interests who are hijacking our elections. In elections where outside spending by super PACs or special interests take over, the People’s Fund would provide grassroots supported candidates an immediate, supplemental 1:1 match on their grassroots base.  In this way, the People’s Fund makes certain our campaigns remain competitive marketplaces of ideas, as envisioned by our founders.

Let’s chart a new course that raises civic engagement and makes ordinary people the most influential voices in our elections. For more information about the Grassroots Democracy Act, please visit: sarbanes.house.gov/GrassrootsDemocracyAct.

Congressman John P. Sarbanes
Maryland's Third Congressional District

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