This election cycle has placed a renewed focus on money's influence in politics.
U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colorado, has been advocating a piece of legislation called the Government by the People Act. First introduced in 2014 by U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Maryland, it proposes a two-fold way to diminish the effects of "big money" in politics. The bill would offer incentives for congressional candidates to forego large donations and political action committee (PAC) money, as well as provide refundable tax credits to give voters without deep pockets a bigger voice.
DeGette spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. Highlights from the conversation are below.
Rep. DeGette on how the bill would work:
"Members of Congress would agree to forego any donation over $1,000. They would get some matching funds from the federal government; for every single one of those individual donations of $1 to $150, it would be matched by the government at a six-to-one basis. And people would get tax credits [of up to $25] for the donations that they made. ... It would also put members of congress back in their districts to raise money rather then raising money from PACs and big donors."
On why attempts to pass this bill have been unsuccessful:
"We have [about] 160 co-sponsors on the bill. We do have a Republican [Walter Jones of North Carolina]. We'd like to get more Republicans co-sponsoring the bill. We think it's what their constituents would want. But it's been hard to get this through a Republican-led Congress."
On accepting PAC money:
"Unlike Donald Trump and some others, I don't have personal wealth. So I do take PAC money. But I also really try to focus on individual donations. For a candidate like me, in a relatively safe seat, it's hard to convince people that they should give donations to me at a level that would help me run my race. I would like nothing more than to say, 'I'm going to focus my fundraising on small-dollar donations and letting people know that they can aggregate that money and will get the federal match.' ... I don't take PAC money from PACs I fundamentally disagree with. Also, I have the view that no PAC will be able to influence my vote with a PAC donation."
On how this would affect incumbent campaigns:
"I think it would erase some of an incumbent's advantage. I think that what would happen would be, if people didn't feel like an incumbent was doing a good job, they could go out, find 1,000 people to give $50,000 and then the incumbent would have to do the same thing. It would make incumbents go out into the community, raise the money and have to prove their case. I think that's really healthy."
On the Disclose Act, another bill she's backing that goes "hand-in-hand" with the Government by the People Act:
"The U.S. Supreme Court and the Citizens United case basically said that corporations are people, which I frankly find to be one of the most ludicrous Supreme Court decisions ever. ... In the meantime, what we can do is we can force the proponents of these organizations to come out into the open and disclose their activities. ... This bill would require the disclosure of an expenditure or donation of over $10,000, which would be used for campaign-related activities."
- "Money-in-Politics Timeline" from the Center for Responsive Politics.
- Center for Responsive Politics tracks campaign finance and spending in the 2016 presidential race.
- States and cities using similar public finance campaign programs include New York City, Connecticut, Minnesota and Seattle, Wash.
- Citizens United versus Federal Election Commission 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.