- The influence of Big Money on Congress has blocked progress on issues Americans care most about.
- The For the People Act will help counteract the power of corporations and the wealthy few by opening up our political system to all Americans, including communities of color.
- Congress and the Biden administration must immediately pass the For the People Act.
- Jana Morgan is the director of the Declaration for American Democracy.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
In the month since the violent attack on the US Capitol, many corporations and powerful organizations have tried to distance themselves from the lawmakers involved in Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn a free and fair election by putting a “pause” on their corporate giving or pledging to never again donate to anyone who voted to reject the results.
These include long-time Washington influence peddlers like Northrop Grumman, Wall Street banks, and major tech companies.
These actions have created a political shockwave, and highlight a bigger problem with our current system: members of Congress rely heavily on Big Money furnished by corporations and wealthy elites, who expect a return on their investment.
While we in the Declaration for American Democracy coalition certainly applaud efforts to pull funding from seditious members of Congress, the influence these corporations have has played a big role in blocking action on so many issues Americans care about — whether that’s combating climate change, ensuring affordable healthcare, or establishing a fair minimum wage. Fortunately, there is a bill that is a top priority for leadership in Congress that will significantly decrease the influence of Big Money.
Big Money drowns out the voices of communities of color
Because of wealth disparities resulting from discriminatory policy in the United States, the vast majority of Big Money donors are white. Since donor class preferences drive policy in our current broken system, the issues Black and brown people care most about fall to the bottom of the list, despite robust participation of these communities in our democracy.
The current pandemic is a perfect example — the huge disparities in health outcomes for communities of color are the direct results of policies that have short-changed Black and brown Americans on healthcare, fair wages, job security, and more.
White Americans hold the majority of wealth in the United States, and without a fair way to fund campaigns for public office, their dollars dominate our political system, making it harder for Black and brown people to build political power or run for public office.
The outsized corporate and wealthy white influence in our political system demonstrates the urgent need to change the status quo.
Fortunately, hope is within reach.
Now, with pro-reformers controlling the House, Senate, and the White House, our government has an opportunity to rein in the influence of Big Money in politics and transform our political system into one that realizes the true promise of American democracy — a government of the people, by the people, and for the people that no longer pushes Black and brown communities to the sidelines.
The For the People Act — set to be introduced in the Senate and reintroduced last month in the House with support from more than 210 House Democrats — is once-in-a-generation legislation that will help counteract the power of corporations and the wealthy few who dictate the direction of our government.
The bill aims to amplify the power of small donors, who more closely represent the average constituent in terms of gender and race, and ensure more transparency in political spending. The bill will also expand and protect voting rights for all Americans, end partisan gerrymandering, and restore ethics and accountability in our government.
What’s in the bill?
The For the People Act breaks the corrupt influence of Big Money spending and lifts the rest of our voices through a number of reforms, including: establishing a small-donor matching system; creating small dollar “People PACs” (political action committees); and piloting democracy dollar vouchers, all of which build the power of small donors in our elections.
Establishing a small-donor matching system for congressional elections would provide candidates running for office who have received donations of up to $200 from a private citizen with a six to one matching donation funded by corporate lawbreakers, not taxpayers. This means a donation of $100 would attract $600 in matching funds and be worth a total of $700, ensuring individual donations go further. This system has proven to help more small donors give in their districts, encourages a broader set of voters — including from Black and brown communities — to donate, and increases diversity in who runs for office by reducing financial barriers to the political process. Nurses, firefighters, and teachers can now be big donors, motivating candidates to spend as much energy counting their support as chasing down deep-pocketed lobbyists in DC.
Candidates who participate in a small-donor matching system are also able to accept contributions from “People PACs,” which only raise small-dollar individual contributions. Right now, political candidates have the ability to raise an unlimited number of $5,000 donations through regular PACs, serving as a tool for largely the wealthy white donor class to continue to influence and control our political system. “People PACs” are a tool for the rest of us, including base-building organizations in predominantly Black and brown communities, to also build power and a voice in our government.
The For the People Act would also launch a pilot of democracy dollar vouchers, which provide local citizens with small coupons of $25 to donate to the congressional candidates of their choice. This encourages greater participation from everyday voters in our political process. We’ve seen the power of these vouchers firsthand in cities like Seattle. After implementing the first cycle of this program, the share of voucher donations from majority-people-of-color communities increased by 46%. And in 2019, nearly 40% of donors who gave democracy vouchers to candidates were new donors that election cycle.
To heal our country and build a more just, fair, and inclusive democratic society that is not driven by the power of the dollar, we must pass and sign into law these fundamental, historic, and popular reforms immediately. Recent polling shows that 67% of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, independents, and Democrats, support the common sense reforms in the For the People Act.
Our democracy only works when all voices can be heard. Passing the For the People Act is an opportunity for Congress and the new administration to unite our nation, curb corporate influence, and have our politicians truly legislate on our behalf. It’s time to move our country forward to live up to its democratic ideals.
Jana Morgan is the director of the Declaration for American Democracy, a coalition of over 180 public service organizations representing labor, racial justice, voting rights, faith, environmental, women’s rights and good government and many other important communities, that have come together determined to reform our democracy.
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