Connecticut Shows a Way Forward
The cost to get into Congress has never been higher. The 2014 mid-term elections are projected to cost a record-setting $3.67 billion, edging out 2010 as the most expensive midterm election in history, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP).
All this money increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few means the voices of regular people are being drowned out. As CRP notes, we’ll likely see fewer small donors this cycle. They predict 100,000 fewer donors giving $200 and more than in 2010 - even though total campaign contributions may increase by $40 million this year.
As large donors drown out smaller donors on the federal level, Connecticut is showing that there is another way. Through its Citizens’ Election program, Connecticut offers public financing for its candidates. The Citizens’ Election programs awards grants to candidates based on their ability to raise in-district, small donations and abide by spending limits. These grants allow candidates to both to be less reliant on big donors and amplify the voices of smaller donors.
Of the 377 candidates running for a state office in the general election, nearly three out of four (273) are using the Citizens’ Election program. While Washington, D.C., remains stuck in partisan gridlock, the participation in Citizens’ Election is clearly a bipartisan affair.
- Eighty-eight percent of Democrats running for state legislative seats are participating in the program and 78 percent of Republicans are. More than nine out of 10 Democrats used public funds as candidates for open seats.
- Seven out of 10 incumbent GOP candidates opted for public funds. Almost three out of four Republican challengers participated in Citizens’ Elections.
- For Republicans running for open seats, their participation rate went up to five out six (87 percent).
- Eight-seven percent of incumbent Democrats used the program.
Though the Connecticut governor’s race and at least one state Senate race raise questions about outside spending, the system is still working as expected: candidates are able to run and win races by relying on regular people, not lobbyists or big money interests.
As the Baltimore Sun recently reported, U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes has been pushing for a similar small donor system for Congress, the Government by the People Act (HR 20). The bill would match small donations six-to-one with public funds, provide a tax credit to encourage first time small donors, and ensure candidates can remain competitive against the possibility of outside attacks. Maryland’s Montgomery County, part of Rep. Sarbanes’ district, recently passed its own form of public financing, too.
We don’t have to settle for the status quo in Washington—voters angry at a broken system and members of Congress too worried about raising money to focus on constituents and policy. Connecticut shows a way forward.
Revised on November 7, 2014 for latest election results and to correct data errors.
Ed. note: These numbers above do not include third party and independent candidates, but several did accept CEP grants.