The Brennan Center for Justice
Partner Policy

Curb Big Money in Politics Through Small Donor Matching Public Financing

Public financing is good for candidates and voters alike. The expense of running for office can discourage talented and promising candidates from entering public life if they lack personal resources or the support of large donors. By reducing financial barriers, public financing helps to encourage all qualified candidates to compete. It also helps to ensure that citizens receive the best possible representation. By lessening the need to court special interests, public financing programs can promote interaction between candidates and the diverse constituents they seek to represent — which makes politics work better for everyone. And once elected, publicly financed candidates are accountable to the many individual donors who have supported them, rather than a wealthy few. As Richmond, California councilmember and public financing recipient Jovanka Beckles observed in a 2016 interview with the Brennan Center, “When you take money from the public, you are beholden to the public only, and not any other corporate interest.”

The National Landscape

Introduced in:

Illinois, New York

In The News

“David Melton with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform said the program would boost voter turnout. 'Voter engagement and participation rates improve significantly, apparently, because voters felt more engaged when following elections in which they had made a small contribution,' he said.”
“In effect, two things happen when the political system limits the power of people without much money: Minority candidates are less likely to run for office, to raise enough money when they do, and to win as a result. And the candidates who do win are less likely to support policies prioritized by minority communities like criminal justice reform, minimum wage increases, or paid sick days.”

Partners

  • Good government advocates
  • Voters
  • Clean elections advocates

Opposition

  • Corporate special interests
Call us for real-time support using this library, problem-solving tips, and follow-up from our team of national experts:
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FAQ

How does this work?
Small donor matching systems empower average citizens by elevating the importance of small donations. These systems have been implemented with success in several major U.S. cities, and have allowed small donors — of both major parties and all ideologies — to play a significant role in politics. The concept is simple: small donations from individuals, usually under about $200, are matched by public money. The most successful systems also employ a multiple match ratio, thereby amplifying the impact of a single small donation.
Who does this help?
Small donor systems offer concrete benefits for both candidates and voters. With an alternative source of funds, candidates who don’t necessarily have connections to big donors are more likely to enter electoral contests, increasing the overall competitiveness of elections and diversifying the candidate pool. From the voter perspective, the match encourages more small donors to give, knowing their contribution is more valuable to a candidate. And even such small-scale financial involvement in elections serves as a gateway to other ways of engaging in the political process.
How does this even the playing field?
Public financing increases the racial, economic, and gender diversity of those running for office and those contributing to the races. By focusing on grassroots support from ordinary constituents, public financing encourages more citizens, particularly those from historically disenfranchised communities, to participate in politics. Studies of existing public financing systems show increased participation among low-income and racial minority communities.

Model Policy

Coming soon