Reform for Illinois is a long-time supporter of small donor matching “Fair Elections” programs for political campaigns.
These programs amplify the voices of everyday Illinoisans in our government by empowering them to make meaningful contributions to candidates they support.
How it works:
Example: Public Financing/Small Donor Matching Bill, SB1733/HB3712, 101st ILGA (Sponsored by Senator Melinda Bush and Representative Kelly Cassidy)
- Candidates choose to opt in or not
- Contributions from $25 to $150 from local donors are matched 6:1 by public funds
- A $25 donation becomes $175, $100 becomes $700, etc.
- Limits are set on overall amounts each candidate can gain from the system
- Candidates who opt in cannot accept contributions over $500 from a single donor
- Requires only $2 per resident, per year, to function
- Creates a campaign finance board within the State Board of Elections to administer the program
- Applies to statewide constitutional officers, state senators, and state representatives
Program details vary. Denver recently enacted a program that matches contributions of $10-$50 at a 9:1 ratio. This means a donor giving $10 would turn into $100 for their favored candidate; $50 would turn into $500.
Benefits of public financing systems:
- Empower everyday citizens to have a real impact on the campaign of a candidate they believe in.
- Empower talented candidates who lack access to deep pockets or political networks to run for office & win.
- Encourage candidates to listen more to everyday constituents and less to wealthy donors & special interests.
- Make government more accountable and responsive to the people it’s supposed to serve.
- Increase the diversity of both candidates and donors, especially in historically disenfranchised communities. New York City’s program caused donor participation in minority communities to increase by as much as twenty-four times.
- Letitia James, the first African-American woman to be elected New York Attorney General, won her first race using New York City’s small donor matching program: “The public financing system gave me the opportunity to compete and succeed, allowing me to represent individuals whose voices are historically ignored.”
Who has public financing programs:
- Localities: New York City established its matching program in the 1980s, and enjoys an 80% candidate participation rate. Los Angeles, Denver, Baltimore, Montgomery County MD, and other local jurisdictions have matching programs, several passed in the last few years.
- Seattle has a “democracy voucher” program that sends $100 in vouchers to residents to give to their favorite candidates. While small donor programs have been studied extensively, vouchers have only been used once so far so there is not much data yet (more coming soon).
- States: 13 states have some kind of public financing program. New York State appears poised to adopt the most robust statewide program yet, modeled on the successful one in NYC.
- What about Illinois? In 2015, 79% of Chicago voters approved an advisory referendum that would establish a publicly financed Fair Elections Fund, but the city council failed to act. The Illinois Senate passed a small donor bill in 2017.
Cost: Typically a fraction of a percent of a jurisdiction’s budget (1/20 of 1% in the IL bill). A recent NY State commission report noted that reducing the power of special interests saves money: “the elimination of just one wasteful tax expenditure or one unnecessary spending program could cover the full cost of the program.”