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Public Statements

Introduction of the Grassroots Democracy Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. SARBANES. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce legislation that will build a new paradigm for the financing of congressional campaigns. The Grassroots Democracy Act is a package of reforms designed to combat the influence of concentrated money in politics, raise civic engagement, and to amplify the voice of everyday Americans in our nation's electoral process. Through a three-pronged, comprehensive approach, we can ensure Americans' voices are heard over the din of big money that has dominated our politics and our public policy for too long.

First, the legislation provides Americans with a $50 refundable tax credit/coupon to contribute to their preferred candidates for congressional office. With average Americans newly empowered to participate in campaign giving, candidates will have more incentive to re-engage with everyday voters rather than spending disproportionate amounts of time fundraising from moneyed interests.

Next, the legislation multiplies the impact of grassroots donations ($100 or less). For candidates who forego PAC money and are willing and able to earn broad-based support from grassroots donors in their district or state, a public match will be available on grassroots donations. Suddenly, the $50 contribution can become a $300 contribution--matched at a rate of $5 to $1. For those candidates who agree to take only grassroots donations, the $50 contribution can become a $550 contribution--matched at a rate of $10 to $1. By democratizing the donor base and amplifying the impact of grassroots contributions, participating candidates will be able to run a viable, competitive campaign, while staying connected to the needs of the constituents they represent.

Lastly, the legislation prevents super PACs and other big money organizations--the products of the Citizens United and other recent court rulings--from drowning out the voice of the people. In elections where outside spending significantly outpaces national norms, grassroots supported candidates will have access to a People's Fund--to make sure their voice can still be heard. Once total non-candidate spending reaches a certain decibel level, grassroots supported candidates will have the opportunity to apply for an additional 1:1 match on their grassroots base, providing the immediate, supplemental support necessary to ensure the marketplace of ideas remains competitive.

Capitol Hill is full of well-intentioned people who came to Washington with noble goals and deeply held principles. Most ran for Congress out of a strong desire to serve their community and the broader American public. The problem is the moment they decide to run for office they become distracted--distracted by the endless need for more money to win the election.

The Grassroots Democracy Act represents a path forward. Together, these reforms provide can begin to combat the influence of concentrated money in politics, raise civic engagement, and amplify the political voice of the American electorate. A new paradigm of financing campaigns will liberate candidates from dependence on special interests and big money, ensuring our public policy is truly fashioned in the interest of the public.

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