Renee Loth, The Boston Globe
THOSE OF US who cherish the First Amendment often argue that the best antidote to offensive speech is not a ban or regulation, but simply more speech. A similar logic supports a bill in Congress that would rebalance the grotesque influence of big money in political campaigns by giving a louder voice to small donors. “We’re not restricting anyone’s speech,” said US Representative John Sarbanes of Maryland, sponsor of the bill. ‘‘We’re adding speech.”
In a campaign year when a few dozen deep-pocketed plutocrats dominate the public discourse, it’s heartening to know that someone is trying to design a system where ordinary voters can be heard — and without running afoul of the Supreme Court’s decree that money is a form of speech and therefore can’t be restricted. On the sixth anniversary of the Court’s Citizens United decision, the gusher of campaign cash is unabating. And yet, less than half of one percent of the country’s population contributes even $200 to political campaigns. Short of a constitutional amendment, fixing that will take creativity.
Like most campaign finance proposals in this environment, the “Government by the People Act” is somewhat convoluted. It would encourage small donations to congressional candidates by giving voters a 50 percent refundable tax credit for every contribution, up to $50. Candidates who agree to voluntarily cap their individual donations at $1,000, and forgo most PAC contributions, would get a 6-to-1 match from a special “Freedom from Influence Fund,” making the $50 worth $350. A similar system of “democracy vouchers” was adopted overwhelmingly by Seattle voters in a referendum last November.