As Americans prepare to cast their votes this fall, we find ourselves in the midst of an election season like no other before it -- one where the overwhelming power of super PACs and special interests drowns out the voice of everyday Americans. No wonder that many people view Congress as beholden to these special interests. It is time to create a new paradigm that makes candidates dependent upon the people for support and accountable to them once they have assumed office.
Money in politics has long been a corrosive problem for our democracy. But the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision has thrown special interest spending into overdrive, allowing corporations, billionaires and other moneyed interests to blanket the airwaves, buy elections and exert undue influence on public policy. As of the first week of September, Super PACs and other outside groups had spent nearly $330 million on this election -- five times the amount spent at this point in the 2010 campaign and triple what was spent at this point of the last Presidential election in 2008.
Most Americans can sense that our campaign system is broken. One common refrain I hear from across the political spectrum is that we must reform our political system so that it is more responsive to the needs of average Americans. Results of a recent poll show that 75 percent of registered voters are concerned about the role of money in politics. That's why I recently introduced the Grassroots Democracy Act (H.R. 6426) -- a three-pronged reform to put the public interest back in front 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 my website at: www.sarbanes.house.gov/GrassrootsDemocracyAct
John P. Sarbanes