Arizona Advocacy Network

Government of, by and for the People

Congressmen: Our colleagues are letting special interests control the agenda. A tax credit can help rebalance the power.

Five years after the Supreme Court's landmark Citizens United ruling, big-money campaign donors and wealthy special interests have amassed unprecedented political power.

They have shown absolutely no hesitation in exercising that power to benefit their narrow objectives. It's a corrosive influence on our government that is only growing.

In the first two months of the new, Republican-controlled Congress, we've seen a litany of bills that do favors for Wall Street, but few that give hard-working families more economic security, tax breaks or the educational opportunities they deserve.

These last few months have only added to a pervasive and deeply-held cynicism among Arizonans about the state of our democracy that discourages participation. Who can blame them?

Bills created to benefit giant oil companies or financial institutions at the expense of regular consumers confirm the all-too-common belief about Congress: That special interests are calling the shots and blocking progress on important issues.

We hear enthusiasm for making the economy work for everyday Americans, creating good jobs, protecting the environment and enhancing food safety. But instead, we see special interest tax breaks sail through Congress while these supposed "priorities" languish.

No wonder that last November, amid the most expensive midterm election in history and a deluge of "dark money" in Arizona, we had the lowest voter turnout since the Second World War.

Despite this grim reality, there is reason for hope. Most people who run for public office do so out of a sincere desire to help others and to make a difference in their community. Many are deeply frustrated by the outsized role of money in politics and long to restore Congress' credibility. To do this, we have to rebalance who holds the power in financing our elections.

Although the Supreme Court has ruled against limiting political spending, we can still dilute big money's influence by setting up a small-donor fundraising system to compete with today's big-money politics. That's the idea behind H.R. 20, the Government By the People Act.

Under this proposal, Americans would receive a "My Voice" tax credit for small-dollar political contributions, giving them the means to participate in funding campaigns. For candidates that agree to voluntary contribution limits, H.R. 20 would boost small donations with a "Freedom From Influence" matching fund, giving everyday citizens a more equal voice in our political process.

By making citizen-funded elections a viable alternative to our current big-money system, members of Congress would spend more time with their constituents and less time with the insider crowd.

And while these members would still have to raise money, they would be incentivized to build support among their actual constituents rather than lobbyists and corporations. Imagine your congressman at community events and pushing for legislation designed to help local issues — rather than your congressman going to lobbyist fundraisers and advancing tax breaks for their corporate clients — all because average citizens would have the power to fund a candidate's campaign.

That's the promise of a small-donor matching system.

This month, we're proud to attend the AZ Advocacy Network Annual Dinner on March 21 and to host a roundtable discussion at Arizona State University on March 22 to continue building support for the Government By the People Act, so that Arizonans and Americans can come together to fight big-money politics and return to a government of, by and for the people.

Congressman Ruben Gallego represents Arizona's Seventh Congressional District, and Congressman John Sarbanes represents Maryland's Third Congressional District