What do people mean by “money in politics” or “campaign finance reform”? Running for office requires money—for staff, travel, TV ads, etc. In many countries, much of the cost of public elections is paid for by public funds, so the voters control the process and candidates are only accountable to their constituents. But in most places in the U.S., election campaigns are funded only with private money, most of it coming in the form of large checks from wealthy donors.
The extent of the money in politics problem, how we got here (from a legal perspective), and what we can do to create a democracy in which the strength of a citizen’s voice does not depend on the size of her wallet.
Our data sets were provided and cleaned by Public Campaign. For the purposes of this report, Public Campaign used federal campaign contribution data made public by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and then refined and augmented by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP).
The Government By the People Act increases the power of the small contributions that ordinary citizens can afford to give, providing incentives for congressional candidates to reach out to average constituents, not just dial for dollars from wealthy donors.
For four decades, the Supreme Court’s flawed approach to money in politics has gutted common-sense protections against the power of special interests and wealthy individuals. This defies our core democratic values.
“For let it be agreed that a government is republican in proportion as every member composing it has an equal voice in the direction of its concerns…” Thomas Jefferson Letter to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816
In August 2011, Congress passed a strange piece of legislation intended to bind itself into the future. In spite of persistently high unemployment and an unremarkable deficit-to-GDP ratio, and in spite of public polling that consistently showed that creating jobs was the American public’s top priority, politicians inside the infamous Washington “Beltway” had spent months locked in a debate over ways to cut deficits and balance the federal budget—policies that would not create jobs and by some estimates would put millions out of work.