Support Publicly Financed Elections

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With all the distractions in DC, some may have missed this week’s action on Illinois Senate Bill 1424, which if passed would establish a small donor matching system for a number of major statewide races, including governor.

Though stalled right now in the Illinois Senate, the ‘Small Donor Democracy Matching System for Fair Elections Act’ would be good news for voters, helping shift political power away from special interests and wealthy donors and back to average citizens, whose voices are all but lost in today’s political process.

In 2016, nine Illinois statehouse races topped the $2 million mark in contributions, and the comptroller race alone cost more than $12 million, with most of this money coming from wealthy donors. SB 1424 would help close the power gap by creating a six-to-one matching system for small donations, thus opening the field to a more diverse range of candidates while limiting the amount of public funds available to each candidate.

Appropriating state funds to level the election playing field is hardly an ideal solution, but it’s a decent start, especially as we brace for an election year where the top gubernatorial candidates have already raised more money than any other governor’s race in the country.

Critics of SB 1424, such as State Senator Sue Rezin (Republican, 38th district), argue that SB 1424 “would force Illinois taxpayers to pay for political campaigns.” Rezin fails to mention, however, that at a cost of somewhere between $12 and $50 million (numbers provided on the senator’s own website), the program would set each of us back a whopping $1 per year, according to the non-partisan Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

A small price to pay, I think, when we voters are often “forced” to choose among self-funded mill/billionaires and special interest lackeys.

Senator Rezin boasts in her May 5 news release that she and other Republicans, in opposing the bill, aim to “put people over partisan politics.” But Rezin is among many elected officials who benefit from the status quo—a system that, more often than not, puts big money over people.

But we the people have had enough. Partisan politics aside, and for as long as money equals speech in U.S. elections, we need a system that gives average voters a real voice in the political process. The ‘Fair Elections Act’ is a move in the right direction.