About the Fighting Big Money Agenda

Our government doesn’t represent us, and too many Americans feel like we aren’t being heard.

The Fighting Big Money agenda is a comprehensive plan to fix that, and restore balance to our democracy. It’s endorsed by leading reformers and activists and asks candidates for office to support specific policy reforms:

It is important to recognize that no single solution will solve all the challenges our democracy faces, but this comprehensive agenda is meant to help policy makers and voters think creatively about what we must do to preserve democracy of, by, and for the people.

Click the headings below for more details, or read the full agenda (PDF):

Everyone Participates (Empowering Small Donors)

Summary: To give everyday people a bigger voice in politics, we need to encourage policies that put small donors at the center of the process, with matching funds, tax credits, or small-dollar vouchers.

Top Message: We need to provide incentives that encourage the active participation of small donors in our elections so candidates are accountable to the people—not wealthy donors and special interests.

Policy Proposal: The next Congress should commit to a 21st Century democracy where everyone participates. As a Member of Congress, you should endorse, prioritize, and work aggressively to pass legislation to provide public funds that will amplify small donations to federal candidates who agree to lower contribution limits.

With each election cycle, our elected leaders depend on a smaller and smaller share of our population making larger and larger campaign contributions. As a result, our leaders listen to a handful of deep-pocketed interests at the direct expense of everyday Americans.

We need to provide incentives such as matching funds that encourage the active participation of small donors in our elections so candidates are accountable to, and dependent on, the people – not wealthy donors and special interests. Other potential incentives include limited tax credits and small-dollar vouchers.

Providing public funding support to amplify the role of ordinary Americans in financing elections makes elected officials less indebted to a narrow set of funders, allows candidates to spend more time listening to their constituents, gives more people the ability to run for office, elects officeholders more reflective of the community at large, and leads to policies more responsive to public needs and less skewed by wealthy interests.

Everyone’s Voice is Heard (Voting Rights and Contribution Limits)

Summary: We need to restore the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court, in Shelby, stripped it of the enforcement mechanisms that had made it effective and helped it maintain bipartisan support for decades. Everyone’s vote must count and everyone’s voice must be heard for democracy to work for all of us. So we should pass policies to make voting more convenient and impose common-sense limits on political contributions to ensure the wealthy don’t have undue influence on our elections.

Top Message: From equal access to the ballot box to the right not to be silenced by big money, democracy requires everyone to have a voice in the decisions affecting their lives.

Policy Proposal: The next Congress should commit to a 21st Century democracy where everyone’s voice is heard. As a Member of Congress, you should endorse, prioritize, and work aggressively to pass legislation to reduce barriers to the ballot box and increase turnout. Members of Congress should support meaningful contribution limits so a wealthy few cannot use their economic power to shut out ordinary citizens.

Our democracy is based on the principle of one person, one vote – not one dollar, one vote. From equal access to the ballot box to the right not to be silenced by big money, democracy requires everyone to have a voice in the decisions affecting their lives.

Our democracy is undermined when elected representatives only hear the policy preferences of the wealthy. We need reasonable limits on using money in politics so our government doesn’t just respond to wealthy donors and special interests when it should be responding to all Americans. Limits are most effective when combined with reforms to encourage more small donors to participate.

Our democracy functions best when all eligible Americans participate in the political process, and when the voting system is free, fair, accessible, and free from discrimination. Reforms to modernize our voter registration system would make voting more convenient and secure. They would provide Americans with the options they need to ensure they can register, vote, and make their voices heard. Restoring the Voting Rights Act would ensure that every American is protected against discrimination in voting.

Everyone Knows (Transparency)

Summary: The American people deserve to know who’s trying to influence politicians and the policy-making process. We need laws to create more disclosure of spending by outside groups and regulatory action by the SEC, FEC, and IRS to make sure outside spending groups and wealthy donors can’t hide from voters.

Top Message: Voters have a right to know who is trying to influence our views and our elected representatives.

Policy Proposal: The next Congress should commit to a 21st Century democracy where everyone knows who funds campaigns. As a Member of Congress, you should push to pass legislation enacting new disclosure requirements for outside spending groups, urge the FEC to create regulations responsive to the Citizens United decision that would eliminate secret money contributions, urge the SEC to require public corporations to disclose their political spending, urge the FCC to require advertisers to disclose their “true identity,” and urge the IRS to more clearly define political activity so organizations cannot abuse the system to keep their donors secret. Congress should support an executive order requiring all federal government contractors to disclose their political spending.

Voters have a right to know who is trying to influence our views and our elected representatives.

Americans should be able to easily look up candidates, online and in “real-time,” to see what entities have spent substantial sums on the candidate’s behalf, and which donors have provided the funds, both during the election and afterwards.

Congress should enact effective disclosure requirements so outside spending groups cannot hide from voters the wealthy donors and special interest funding them.

If President Obama fails to act, the next president can increase disclosure by signing an executive order requiring all federal contractors to disclose their political spending. Congress should urge the next president to sign such an order. Federal regulatory agencies – the FEC, FCC, IRS, and SEC – also have important roles to play in ensuring transparency. Congress should ensure that these agencies have the funding to enact the policies discussed above.

Everyone Plays by Common Sense Rules (The People’s Jurisprudence)

Summary: In a series of decisions, the Supreme Court has put our elections more squarely in the hands of big donors. We need justices who’ll transform the court’s approach to money in politics and a constitutional amendment to correct the fundamentally flawed decisions.

Top Message: The size of your wallet should not determine the strength of your political voice. But, in a long series of decisions beginning with Bukley v. Valeo and escalating with Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court has cemented a flawed reading of our Constitution that strips the ability of We the People to write the rules by which we elect our representatives, such as common sense limits on election spending.

Policy Proposal: As a Member of Congress, you should commit to a 21st Century democracy where everyone plays by common sense rules and should pledge to restore our pro-democracy Constitution by endorsing, prioritizing, and passing the Democracy for All amendment. Senators should confirm justices who will transform the Supreme Court’s approach to money in politics and revive the people’s ability to protect our democracy. Members of the House should urge their Senate colleagues to confirm such nominees.

The Court in recent years rejects any reason other than fighting quid pro quo corruption (or bribery) as the basis for reining in big money, including leveling the playing field between mega donors and the rest of us, or ensuring the integrity of our democratic system. The Court has struck down strong protections, such as caps on candidate spending, meaningful contribution limits, and bans on corporate political spending. With a change in the Court’s composition now upon us, this discussion looms even larger in both who will fill the vacancy left by Justice Scalia’s death, and how the reform movement proceeds strategically once a new Justice is sworn in.

Special Note: The Supreme Court in 2016

The death of Justice Antonin Scalia and President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to succeed him makes the issues covered in the Fighting Big Money campaign even more important, potentially pivotal in 2016. That makes any debate about the court or of these or many other issues pending before the court more challenging for your campaign, and your opponent’s. Keep in mind how you and your opponent debate the important issues of the Supreme Court may well be the most information voters get on the topic. Thus, strive to have a debate that appeals to our shared values, justice, fairness, equality under the law, and what is best for the country, and avoid a debate that is partisan and stuck in the polarized politics of the moment.

Democracy reform is a nonpartisan issue about which Americans from across the ideological spectrum are reaching quick consensus. At the local and state level, Republicans and Democrats alike are increasingly supporting or sponsoring new reform legislation to check money’s influence. Only in Washington, D.C. do these issues feel so polarized. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court vacancy appears to cement that polarization through the 2016 election.

Because of the pressure you and your opponent will face from your leadership to toe the party line on the court nomination, it is important for us to make obvious why we repeatedly say democracy reform is a nonpartisan issue.

Both major parties also include entrenched opposition to reform.

So the fight against big money and for empowering people and strengthening our democracy is not pitting Republicans against Democrats, but rather pro-democracy reformers against the delay, obstruction, and polarization preferred by the money people in both major parties.

The next justices to join the court will review cases that determine if our democracy of, by, and for the people survives. If, instead, the trends continue increasing the power and influence of a few wealthy special interests more than people, then we’ve all lost far more than what is at stake in any single election, court case, or legislative battle. Our collective failure to put national interests ahead of partisan advantage will be among the reasons we should be prepared to tell our children about what happened to democracy.

Everyone is Held Accountable (Enforcement of Tougher Penalties)

Summary: The Federal Election Commission’s own members call it dysfunctional, and the partisan nature of many state election boards call their ability to fairly mediate disputes into question. Add to that the fact that many campaigns see violations as something they won’t have to deal with until after the election (and the fines as minimal), and what you have is an election system in need of serious reform and real accountability.

Top Message: A fair and accessible election system requires strong enforcement of our laws so those who break them face real consequences.

Policy:The next Congress should commit to a 21st Century democracy where everyone is held accountable. As a Member of Congress, you should endorse, prioritize, and work aggressively to pass legislation to create a new enforcement agency with real power to hold campaign violators accountable and legislation to shut down individual-candidate super PACs and strengthen the rules that prohibit coordination between candidates and outside spending groups. Senators should commit to confirming FEC commissioners who promise to enforce existing law and an Attorney General who will prioritize addressing violations of campaign finance and election laws. Members of the House should urge their Senate colleagues to confirm such nominees.

A fair and accessible election system requires strong enforcement of our laws. Those who break the law must face real consequences.

But the FEC consistently fails to enforce and properly interpret campaign finance laws. As a result, candidates and their political operatives constantly stretch, if not break, the laws with impunity. A new, real enforcement agency is needed to replace the FEC. In the meantime, the Senate should confirm individuals to the FEC who are committed to enforcing existing law.

Individual-candidate super PACs and coordination between candidates and outside spending groups allow federal candidates and their big donors to evade the candidate contribution limits enacted by Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court. Shutting down individual-candidate super PACs and strengthening coordination rules are necessary to ensure accountability.

Given the complete enforcement breakdown, the Department of Justice needs to actively exercise its jurisdiction to prosecute criminal violations of campaign finance laws and election laws that protect access to the ballot box.