top of page

Are Our Elections Fair? Let's Talk Finance

Updated: Mar 15

Better funding gives candidates an edge on competition. We know this. It's been studied time and again: political science journals are replete with examples. Large sums increase the chance of victory. 


Yet, large sums do not necessarily equate to a large number of donors. In fact, data from the ​2022 midterms found that the 100 biggest donors outspent the millions of small American donors by 60%. 


Most have heard about this problem: a minority of wealthy donors have a disproportionate influence on elections. When a few elites have more power than the rest of the country, elections become less democratic. When wealthy individuals donate pivotal funds, they increase the chances that the winning candidate represents them rather than the rest of the voters who gave less significant donations.


The dreaded 'quid pro quo' also emerges when elected candidates feel inclined to pay their largest sponsors back with political favors. With these apparent, well-trodden issues in campaign finance, it's time to turn to alternative methods of funding in order to protect constituents’ voices. 


Public campaign finance programs (grants, matching funds, and vouchers) all present solutions to current issues in our system. A grant funding program provides direct government funding for all candidates who exceed receiving a minimum number of small donations.


Financing through matching funds increases the power of small donations by multiplying them. New York implemented a program in 2019 that multiplies small donations by a factor of 6. Under this program, a $10 donation is matched $60 by the government.


A third option is a voucher program, which gives money directly to constituents to be used for donating to candidates of their choice. Increasing the impact of small donations on elections works to amplify the voices of the American majority by giving them more financial influence. Such programs make candidates less dependent on the elites for victory. 


Opponents raise concerns that public funding programs are too expensive to implement. However, studies reveal only a small impact on annual budgets. For example, the Center for American Progress calculated that the cost of the District of Columbia’s grants and matching funds program, annually, would be cheaper than minor repairs on a one-mile stretch of local highway. 


Increasing the impact of small donations would help strengthen democracy by leveling the financial playing field. The program in New York, for instance, is projected to increase the power of small donations from 11% of the total donations to as much as 67% in future elections. Elections would still be influenced by donations, but instead, these donations would be more representative of the sum of constituents rather than a few wealthy individuals and organizations.


Candidates would also be less pressured to appeal to the rich elite and can instead focus on appealing to Americans as a whole. Further, opportunities for candidates with diverse backgrounds may increase, as voters with diverse backgrounds will have more influence. 


In our system, representation is given primarily to those who can afford it. Public financing offers viable means for campaigning with broader representation. It's a way to distribute political power more fairly. 


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


Sources


Glavin, Brendan and Michael Malbin. “Analysis Shows Amplification of Small Donors under New NY State Public Financing Program.” Brennan Center for Justice, 30 Jan. 2023, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/analysis-shows-amplification-small-donors-under-new-ny-state-public.


“Public Campaign Financing.” Brennan Center for Justice, https://www.brennancenter.org/issues/reform-money-politics/public-campaign-financing. Accessed 27 Aug. 2023. 



Schuster, Steven Sprick. “Does Campaign Spending Affect Election Outcomes? New Evidence from Transaction-Level Disbursement Data.” The Journal of Politics, vol. 82, no. 4, 2020, pp. 1502–15, https://doi.org/10.1086/708646


Tausanovitch, Alex, and James Lagasse. “The Small-Donor Antidote to Big-Donor Politics.” Center for American Progress, 11 June 2018, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/small-donor-antidote-big-donor-politics/


Vandewalker, Ian, and Mariana Paez. “Small Donor Public Financing Explained.” Brennan Center for Justice, 29 June 2023, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/small-donor-public-financing-explained#:~:text=In%20the%202022%20midterms%2C%20millions,of%20Americans%20by%2060%20percent.

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page