Empower Small Donors: Allow Coordination From Only a Contributor’s First $200

As Rick Hasen noted, Paul Blumenthal reports for HuffPo that some in the U.S. Senate are attempting to completely eliminate the limits on coordinated spending by political parties on candidate campaigns.

This is a problem because it would give political parties, federal elected officials, and federal candidates even greater incentives to focus on the few megadonors who can afford to give a single contribution of over $33,000 to a political party committee, and to pay less attention to millions of average Americans.

Instead, the law should be revised to allow unlimited coordinated spending by a party on candidate elections, but only with money that comes from the first $200 an individual contributes to the party per year.  

This proposal would allow parties to get more money to swing, contested elections, which party leaders would say are being decided by money from SuperPACs and other outside forces.  In 2008, the six federal party committees raised four times the amount from small donors than they spent on coordinated expenditures.  A relaxed coordination rule for the first $200 contributed would increase the party’s ability to target this money most effectively to support particular candidates in key races.

At the same time, the proposal would increase the importance of average Americans in the political process.  Both Republican and Democratic party committees would have much greater incentives to focus on obtaining contributions from working and middle-class Americans, since this money could be targeted in a coordinated fashion with contested races.

The proposal would not be limited to contributions of $200 or less, but would apply to the first $200 contributed by each individual.  Thus, megadonors would be less likely to successfully claim the law “discriminates” against them (a possibility with the current Supreme Court after an Arizona public financing case).  Recognizing, however, that there are many more people who can afford to give $200 (which could be a recurring monthly gift of just over $16) or less, parties and federal officials would have greater incentives to reach out and engage the smaller donors.  In other words, it is much easier to raise $2 million in coordinated funds for a contested race from 10,000 smaller donors than from 10,000 megadonors.  Further, because only the first $200 of an individual’s contributions could be coordinated, the proposal would not allow megadonors to funnel money through the party to circumvent the lower candidate contribution limits.

I talk about this idea in my Georgetown Law Journal article “The Participation Interest,” and Michael Malbin develops a version of it here.

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