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Published — February 6, 2014 Updated — May 12, 2014 at 11:33 am ET

Dems introduce plan for public financing of campaigns

Matching funds would come from closing industry tax loopholes


Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation to create a voluntary public financing system for House candidates Wednesday in an attempt to “combat the influence of big-money politics.”

Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., introduced the bill, titled the “Government by the People Act.” The legislation has more than 100 co-sponsors including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

The proposal will “make the voices of everyday citizens as important as the big donors out there,” Sarbanes said Wednesday at a press conference in Washington, D.C.

Under his plan, when politicians receive donations of $150 or less, that money would be matched at a 6-to-1 ratio. Individual contributors would also be eligible for a $25 tax credit.

Sarbanes told the Center for Public Integrity the matching fund would be paid for closing tax loopholes affecting “industries that have all this influence.”

Doing so, he continued, would allow you to “underwrite a system like this for 50 years.”

To qualify, candidates must agree to accept no more than $1,000 per donor and raise at least 50 percent of their donations from in-state contributors. (The plan would not match any portion of donations larger than $150.)

Furthermore, if a candidate agrees to fund his or her campaign exclusively with donations of $150 or less, contributions would be matched at a 9-to-1 ratio.

Candidates could also receive an additional $500,000 matching gift in the final 60-day home stretch of a campaign if they raise at least $50,000 from small-dollar givers during that period.

In addition, candidates who take political action committee money can only receive matching funds if the PAC limits the contributions it receives to $150 per individual per year.

Sarbanes and his allies argue that the matching fund incentivizes candidates to recruit grassroots donors who feel underrepresented in the nation’s capital.

A tiny fraction of Americans provide the bulk of contributions to candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Sarbanes’ bill, officially known as H.R. 20, has been endorsed by a range of advocacy groups, including Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, the NAACP and several labor unions.

It currently has just one Republican co-sponsor, Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina. The House GOP leadership is not expected to embrace it.

Read more in Money and Democracy

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