Rep. Foushee, Rep. Lieu, Sen. Van Hollen & Sen. Luján Introduce Campaign Finance Reform Bill

Feb 29, 2024
Press

WASHINGTON, DC (February 29, 2024) — Today, Congresswoman Valerie Foushee (D-NC) and Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D-Los Angeles County) introduced the Empowering Mass Participation to Offset the Wealthy’s Electoral Role (EMPOWER) Act, legislation to modernize the presidential public financing system to help publicly funded candidates compete. The bill is the House companion to Senate legislation introduced by Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM). The EMPOWER Act would increase the government’s match for small presidential campaign donations for candidates who participate in the public financing system from 1:1 to 6:1, to encourage public participation in elections and restore the public’s trust that they – not just a few wealthy donors – can affect the outcome of presidential elections.

“Since the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, special interest groups have consistently pumped money into our elections to influence the process in their favor, while diluting the voices of individual voters and grassroots donors.” said Congresswoman Foushee. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bill that will preserve the voices of individual voters in our election system, and restore faith in our democracy.”

“The presidential public financing system was designed to give candidates from all different backgrounds a chance to compete – not just those who are wealthy or have wealthy friends,” said Congressman Lieu. “However, since the disastrous Citizens United decision, wealthy corporations, special interest groups and mega-donors have had an outsized influence on the electoral process, leaving everyday Americans shut out. Our bicameral bill, the EMPOWER Act, would revitalize the presidential public financing system to level the playing field among candidates and put power back in the hands of the American people.”

“Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy, but since the Supreme Court’s wrong and reckless 2010 Citizens United decision, our nation’s campaign finance laws have given big corporations and deep-pocketed special interests enormous power in politics with almost zero transparency. By restoring public financing as a viable option for presidential races, this legislation will help swing the balance of political power back to the American people – where it belongs,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“With the ever-growing influence of big money in politics, it’s time for Congress to reform America’s outdated campaign finance system. I’m proud to reintroduce these bicameral bills that will help ensure candidates put the interests of voters above special interests, while strengthening accountability for those who violate campaign law,” said Senator Luján.

Background on the presidential public financing system: 
The presidential public financing system offers public matching funds to presidential primary candidates who raise small contributions and abide by voluntary limits on campaign spending. For decades, public financing helped level the playing-field for lesser-known candidates. However, since the Citizens United decision, a lack of limits on contributions from corporations and wealthy individuals through super PACs has made it difficult for publicly funded candidates to compete. The EMPOWER Act would modernize the presidential public financing system to bring back a competitive public funding option for presidential candidates that puts power back in the hands of everyday Americans.

Specifically, the EMPOWER Act would:

  • Eliminate spending limits on participating candidates: Candidate spending limits are no longer viable in the wake of Citizens United since outside groups can now make unlimited expenditures funded by unlimited contributions to oppose candidates. There would be a limit on the total amount of matching contributions available to a presidential candidate, to avoid draining public funds.
  • Increase the amount of matching funds for participating candidates: The first $200 of contributions by individuals to presidential candidates would be matched with public funds at a 6:1 ratio, increased from the current 1:1 match for the first $250. For example, a candidate participating in the system would receive $1,200 in public funds for a $200 contribution and would end up with a total of $1,400. This would provide important new incentives for citizens to give and for candidates to seek small donations from supporters.
  • Require participating candidates to agree to accept contributions of no more than $1,000: The current individual contribution limit of $2,800 per donor, per election, would be reduced to $1,000 per donor, per election, for candidates who participate in the system. The present contribution limit would remain unchanged for candidates who do not participate in the system.

The EMPOWER Act is endorsed by: Democracy21, Common Cause, End Citizens United, Public Citizen, and Brennan Center for Justice.

Read the full bill text here.

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