Campaign Reform Comes to Chicago

February 26, 2015

While anti-democracy forces were prevailing in Wisconsin this week, a pro-democracy reform took a step forward in Chicago.

On Tuesday, citizens of Chicago, with almost 80 percent support, voted to approve the following advisory question:

“Should the City of Chicago or the State of Illinois reduce the influence of special interest money in elections by financing campaigns using small contributions from individuals and a limited amount of public money?”

Reducing the influence of the top 1 percent, who give the lion’s share of political donations, is crucial if our democracy is going to function properly.

Boosting small donors is one way to start. New York City has led the way, implementing an ingenious system: If you give $175 or less to a candidate, the city will use public funds to give your candidate six times that amount. According to Common Cause, “In New York, the number of donors who gave to participating candidates grew by 35% after the first election cycle utilizing the 6-to-1 match.”

According to Illinois PIRG, in the Chicago mayoral primary, just 2 percent of contributions “came from donors chipping in $150 or less.” This reform should help change that. "Chicagoans are calling for solutions,” said Illinois PIRG. “Programs to amplify the voices of small donors and incentivize candidates to fund their campaigns with small contributions raised from their own constituents are proven to work. The voters have spoken.”

This small-donor amplification is “the most obvious reform” we can make if we want to equalize “political opportunity,” writes Mark Schmitt of New America, a group dedicated to the renewal of American politics. His paper – “Political Opportunity: A New Framework for Democratic Reform” – provides a lot of food for thought on this subject.