Recent movement on campaign finance reform by Republicans began with state legislatures in 2013. Republican state lawmakers from Texas to Oregon have seen a need for change. Although not as much as many would hope, some change is now making its way to the U.S. House of Representatives. There have been 3 bills introduced by Republicans in the House in recent months that would reform campaign finance.
In October, three Republican legislators (Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, Rep. Mark Amodei of Nevada, and Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama) introduced a bill that would prohibit members of Congress from using political contributions received from certain types of PACs (leadership PACs) to pay for personal expenses. Another Republican, Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, went even further by introducing another piece of legislation to close the personal use loophole for political contributions from any PAC.
In November, Rep. Thomas Petri (R-Wisconsin) introduced the Citizens Involvement in Campaigns (CIVIC) Act. This bill would provide tax credits for small donors making political contributions up to $200 and a deduction for contributions up to $600. Tax credits and deductions for small donations are nothing new. Congress passed a law in 1971 which allowed for these. However, in 1986, Congress eliminated them.
According to the Campaign Finance Institute, only 28% of political contributions in the 2012 presidential election were from small donors (those giving $200 or less). The percentage of large contributions ($1000 or more) was 48%. In the 2012 Congressional races, the percentages were even more lopsided. In Senate races, small donors accounted for 17% of contributions, while PACs and individuals giving $1000 or more accounted for 52%. In House races, the gap was larger with 10% of contributions coming from small donors and 71% coming from PACs and individuals giving $1000 or more.
When introducing the CIVIC Act, Rep. Petri stated, “Campaigns are becoming more and more expensive with no signs of slowing down. Most would agree that the ideal way to finance a campaign is through a broad base of donors. Unfortunately, most Americans aren’t in the position to donate hundreds or thousands of dollars — but they want to get involved. We should be encouraging political participation.”
Champions of campaign finance reform, Richard Painter (ethics counsel to President George W. Bush) and Lawrence Lessig (founder of Rootstrikers), agree. They are also advocates of a more democratic form of involvement in the political process. According to them, if we want our elected officials to represent the views of the general public, we need more of the general public to participate in political funding in order to create a more diverse pool of donors.
Lessig and Painter are advocating a tax credit or voucher system which would allow every citizen of voting age to contribute a small sum of money (for example, $200) to the candidate or candidates of his or her choice. Painter prefers using the term “tax rebate” since every voter pays some form of tax (income tax, sales tax, gas tax, etc). Painter points out that the tax rebate would allow citizens “a return of a portion of their own money so that they can have a real voice in what is done with the rest of their money.”
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