Introducing the Government By the People Act

February 6, 2014
Dear Friend,

It’s well documented that most Americans today view Congress and Washington with deep distrust and cynicism – Congress’ approval rating continues to hover around the single digits.  Much of this stems from the perception that special interests and big money campaign donors wield undue influence over the policy making machinery and that the voices of everyday Americans count for very little.

The public has this perception for a very good reason. In the 2012 election cycle alone, big interests such as the oil and gas industry and Wall Street contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to Congressional campaigns and equally vast sums to lobbying groups. Meanwhile, upwards of $1.3 billion poured in from Super PACs and “dark money” groups that float outside the reaches of our campaign finance laws.

It is perfectly rational to conclude, as most Americans do, that Congress has developed an unhealthy dependence on these sources of campaign funding and as a result too often leans in the direction of the special interests and away from the public interest.  Over thirty years ago, the Republican Minority Leader of the U.S. Senate, Robert Dole, was quoted as saying, “When these political action committees give money, they expect something in return other than good government.”  Since then, the problem he identified has metastasized.  Whatever the issue – job creation, health care, education, environmental protection – big money is warping Congress’ priorities and eroding basic trust in government.

But there is still reason for hope.  Most people who run for public office do so out of a sincere desire to help others and make a difference in their community.  Many of us are deeply frustrated at the outsized role of money in our politics and long to restore Congress’ independence and credibility with the public.   We share our constituents’ conviction that we need a government of, by and for the people – not bought and paid for by big money campaign donors and special interests.

Most members of Congress would leap at the chance to fund their campaigns without having to turn to a familiar cast of big donors and entrenched interests.  Today, that’s virtually impossible given the huge amounts of money it takes to run for office. The good news is that we can craft a viable alternative to the current system – an alternative that allows candidates to raise sufficient campaign funds without turning their backs on everyday Americans.

That’s why I am introducing the Government By the People Act.  This sensible and straightforward piece of legislation will do the following.

First, it will encourage the participation of everyday Americans in the funding of campaigns by providing a refundable $25 My Voice Tax Credit.  This will bring the voices of the broad public into the funding side of campaigns and democratize the relationship between money and speech.

Second, the bill will establish a Freedom From Influence Matching Fund to boost the power of small-dollar contributions.  To be eligible for these matching funds, a candidate must agree to a limit on large donations and must demonstrate broad-based support from a network of small-dollar contributors.  Amplified by the Freedom From Influence matching fund, the voices of everyday Americans would be just as powerful as the voices of the big donors.

Third, the Government By the People Act will provide candidates with an opportunity to earn additional resources in the home stretch of a campaign so that the voices of the people are not completely drowned out by Super PACs and other dark money interests.  In the wake of the Citizens United decision, this kind of support is critical to ensuring that citizen-backed candidates have staying power.

We can pay for these changes just by closing a few of the tax and regulatory loopholes that are the decades-old legacy of special interest influence in Congress.  It’s only fair that those who are responsible for breaking the policy-making machinery in Washington should bear the cost of fixing it.

The Government By the People Act, which has been supported by more than 130 Members of Congress and over 35 national organizations representing millions of Americans, is a common-sense proposal to replace Congress’ dependence on big money with a new model of funding campaigns that puts everyday citizens back in charge.  It holds the promise that the voice of the people will once again find expression in the public policy that comes out of Washington.  That heartfelt aspiration is one shared by Democrats, Republicans and Independents.  I am ready and eager to join Americans from across the political spectrum in this effort to restore a government of, by and for the people.

To learn more about the movement, visit ofby.us and twitter.com/OfByUs. Tweet your opinion using #bythepeople.

Sincerely,
Congressman John P. Sarbanes
Maryland's Third Congressional District