Sarbanes Wants to Bring Back Fair Elections: Rebecca Forte Interviews the Congressman

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Sarbanes spoke at the Howard County Campaign Finance Reform Forum sponsored by local groups on October 15th.

It seems that most Americans can agree that they are feeling ignored. For years politicians have overlooked the majority of their constituents’ actual concerns about finances, the environment, and health. Instead, they listen to the small group of wealthy people who funnel millions of dollars to their campaigns.

In the past I’ve written about both Maryland groups and local candidates who are working to change this corrupt, oligarchic system. However, what if there was someone on the inside who desired change as well? What if a U.S. Congressman was on our side?

Be it karma, or ethics, John Sarbanes is just that. Our own local District 3 Representative is proposing solutions to this problem at the federal level! His tools are bill H.R. 20: The Government by the People Act, and a leadership PAC known as The US Campaign. One of the US Campaign’s goals is to highlight specific examples of instances where politicians have ignored their constituents in decision making. The bill seeks to put a stop to it.

Knowing the Congressman’s interest in campaign finance reform, I reached out to him for more information on this bill and his reasoning for sponsoring it.

  1. Why do you believe that campaign finance reform is important to your constituents in Anne Arundel County?

Americans of all political stripes from every corner of the country–including Anne Arundel County–rightly believe that special interests call the shots, not only in Washington but also in state and local governments around the country. Whether it’s creating good jobs, improving our education system, reducing healthcare costs or protecting the environment, wealthy campaign donors and well-connected insiders are blocking progress on the issues that everyday citizens care about. That’s why there is a strong appetite–in Anne Arundel County and across the country–for solutions to fight back against big-money politics and to return us to a government of, by, and for the people.

  1. I see that you have sponsored a bill: The Government by the People Act (H.R. 20). I am a small political donor, giving roughly $50 to the candidate of my choice. What would this bill mean for me?

Under the Government by the People Act, which I authored and introduced, a $50 donor becomes a power player in our democracy. The bill would provide every American voter with a tax credit to make a small donation to a candidate running for Congress. This would help bring everyday people back into our political system. Then, if that candidate agrees to voluntary contribution limits, the Government by the People Act would boost each small donation with a matching fund. In this new environment, candidates would be able to turn away from wealthy donors, PACs and lobbyists, and instead, power their campaigns with small donors. By rewarding candidates who build strong ties to their communities and who work actively to engage the citizenry, the Government by the People Act would empower the $50 donor and raise his or her voice above the din. Just imagine your representative in Washington standing in your living room, listening to your priorities and making policy decisions that benefit you–all because your voice matters. That’s the promise of a small-donor matching system.

  1. How does HR 20 compare to the donor pools in Montgomery County, Howard County, and Seattle? Are there other case studies that you are looking to with this and similar legislation?

The citizen-owned election systems enacted in Montgomery County and in Howard County are modeled on the policy concepts included in the Government by the People Act. These systems all deploy a matching system for small donations. The Democracy Voucher Program in Seattle has the same end goal as the small-donor systems set up in Montgomery County and Howard County–as well as the Government by the People Act. However, rather than using a tax credit and a match to empower small donors, the system in Seattle provides $100 vouchers for eligible voters to use for small donations to local candidates. [The $100 in vouchers is broken into four $25 vouchers.]

As far as other models, the clean election systems that exist in Connecticut, Maine and New York City are prime examples of reforms that bolster the voices of everyday people and reduce the power of wealthy and well-connected special interests. These systems have not only enabled and encouraged more people to participate in the democratic process, but have also reinvigorated our local governments by empowering a more diverse pool of candidates who would have the resources to run, compete and win.

Thank you to Congressman Sarbanes for fighting for campaign finance reform at the federal level. For more information on his efforts in this fight, be sure to check out the website for The US Campaign.