In a bid to increase political participation and reduce the influence of big dollar donors, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Wednesday announced a new proposal to help voters contribute to federal campaigns.
The plan – dubbed “Democracy Dollars” – would provide $200 in vouchers per federal election to U.S. citizens over the age of 18 to spend on federal candidates of their choosing.
The money would be equally divided between the primary and the general election – $100 for primary and $100 for general – and could be spent in $10 increments on eligible candidates. To receive the money, federal candidates would have to swear off donations of more than $200 from any individual donor. The plan would be paid for by eliminating a taxpayer subsidy for CEOs making 25 times the median salary of their employees or more than $1 million, whichever is less – a change they say would raise $61.9 billion more than 10 years.
“To get anything done in Washington, we have to address the money and greed that corrupts politicians and prevents progress on issues like gun violence prevention, lowering the cost of prescription drugs and addressing climate change,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “My Clean Elections plan is a critical structural change that gets big money and special interests out of politics and ensures that elected officials in Washington are beholden only to the people who sent them there.”
The first major policy announcement by Gillibrand, one of 20 contenders for the Democratic nomination, is in line with the pitch she has been making to voters at town halls and meet-and-greets in Iowa and New Hampshire about the importance of reforming the way campaigns are financed. She considers her proposal an important first step that would dramatically reduce the power of super PACs.
Larry Noble, former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission, said Gillibrand’s proposal was viable.
“It gives you an incentive to talk directly to more voters. When people contribute to your campaign, it’s like investing in your campaign and they’re more likely to go out and vote,” Noble said.
Gillibrand argues the multiplier effect of the program would provide candidates with “far greater resources” than what they are currently raising, which would incentivize candidates to opt in. She pointed to a similar program in Seattle that has led to three times more campaign donors in 2017 than in 2013 – most of them new contributors – that better reflected the city’s age, racial and socioeconomic makeup.
“When you show in small places that it can work, it gives a lot of credibility,” Noble said of Seattle’s program.
End Citizens United, a political action committee focused on campaign finance, also praised what it called a “bold, innovative proposal” that will make politicians accountable to their constituents.
Gillibrand’s campaign is not accepting corporate PAC money or donations from federal lobbyists and she does not have her own super PAC, but the senator came under fire for attending a March fundraiser at the home of an executive from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. She has said the executive is a friend who supports her views on LGBTQ equality.