Danish Murtaza, the BGA’s Policy Associate, testified before the House Elections & Campaign Finance committee in support of HB 5531, the Small Donor Democracy Matching System for Fair Elections Act. The BGA’s policy unit supports a small donor matching system in Illinois and believes that such a system will improve electoral fairness, ballot accessibility and integrity. His testimony follows.
I am here today to speak in support of HB 5531 — the Small Donor Democracy Matching System for Fair Elections Act.
The BGA’s Policy unit believes adopting a small donor matching system will improve electoral fairness and the integrity of our governments.
As was noted in the findings listed in HB 5531, our current finance system “discourages many otherwise qualified candidates from running for office because of the need to raise substantial sums of money to be competitive and to enable them to adequately get their message out to voters.”
Access to our elected offices should be much broader. Access should be available to anyone who wants to run. That’s just basic fairness. Our democracy works best when any qualified person, no matter their socioeconomic background, is able to run competitively and achieve elected office. The high threshold of financing an election can be a prohibition for many working- and middle- class citizens. The Small Donor Matching System would help provide a level playing field for those who are not independently wealthy. When the playing field and ground rules are fair, more and potentially better ideas can rise to the surface for debate. And, competition in an election should be between ideas, not money.
Our current system, the findings noted, “diminishes elected officials’ accountability to their constituents by compelling them to be disproportionately accountable to the relatively small group of contributors who finance their election campaigns.”
It’s not hard to see how an elected official might be more prone to listen to a wealthy benefactor than to a less prominent constituent. When the needs of those who finance campaigns are put ahead of the needs of constituents, that diminishes the integrity of our democracy. The Small Donor Matching System increases the leverage of average people when it comes to financing campaigns. And with this increased importance, the reliance on Super PACS, or dark money, or a few wealthy benefactors should decrease. Candidates ought to be responsive and accountable to all the people, not just the wealthy few who finance campaigns.
The legislative findings also state that our current system, “burdens candidates with the incessant rigors of fundraising and thus decreases the time available to carry out their public responsibilities.”
A “60 Minutes” special in 2016 featured a new member of Congress who said he was told his number one priority wasn’t to govern. Instead, it was to fundraise. The representative said he must raise $18,000 every day. A powerpoint presentation given to representatives back in 2014 advised that out of a nine- or ten-hour day, four hours should be spent raising money.
Now, HB 5531 would apply only to state offices, not congressional, but the point still stands. With the costs of campaigns rising year after year, elected officials will have to spend more and more time raising money and that takes time away from what should be the number one priority: governance. The Small Donor Matching System would decrease the pressure to fundraise and thereby allow for more time for elected officials to carry out their public responsibilities. This is basic good government.
In his second inaugural address, President Franklin Roosevelt said, “We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob.”
The Small Donor Matching System outlined in HB 5531 is a step toward bringing back fairness, ballot accessibility, integrity, and ultimately, trust in our electoral process. The BGA’s Policy team respectfully urges your support for a Small Donor Matching System in Illinois. Thank you.