Money in Politics is an Urgent Civil Rights Issue: New Report, Multimedia Project

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The increasingly dominant role of mega-donors in funding American elections has reached a tipping point, further marginalizing those who are not independently wealthy or do not have access to wealthy donors — particularly women, communities of color, and underserved communities, according to a new project from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

But public financing programs can help create a more equal and participatory democracy that gives these citizens a voice.

Breaking Down Barriers: The Faces of Public Financing is a multimedia publication highlighting a diverse set of elected officials from across the country, including New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea, Los Angeles Councilmember David Ryu, and North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge Donna S. Stroud, who explain how public financing systems are the most effective policy solution to help elevate diverse voices in our political process. This project includes:

  • written report, featuring interviews with more than 20 state and city elected officials from all branches of government in 11 states and 6 cities on the ways in which public financing systems:
    • Lower Barriers to Entry that prevent candidates without access to large sums of money from running;
    • Change the Way Politicians Campaign by encouraging them to focus outreach and fundraising efforts on average constituents rather than on large donors;
    • Increase Citizens’ Engagement in the political process by ensuring they have a meaningful voice; and
    • Enhance Constituent Representation by giving elected officials the tools to govern without having to devote inordinate amounts of time to high-dollar fundraising.
  • short video featuring six elected officials who champion public financing as the best solution to address the outsize influence of money in politics, and explain how such systems boosted their own successful campaigns, while making them more responsive to average citizens once in office.

Together with Demos, the Center will also release a policy paper, A Civil Rights Perspective on Money in Politics, which quantifies and analyzes how money in politics exacerbates existing inequalities.

“The wealth gap between white communities and communities of color has grown to its largest size in 25 years, meaning that those who can make large donations to election campaigns are increasingly unrepresentative of the general population,” notes the paper. “These disproportionately white and male donors not only look different than most Americans — they also have different policy preferences. The candidates who succeed in this environment are often more representative of this homogenous donor pool (by demographics and policy outlook) than of their more diverse constituencies.”

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