The League sent a letter  to the U.S. Senate in support of Senator Udall’s Empower Act, S. 1176, legislation to repair the presidential public financing system. Members of the LWVUS Lobby Corps will be visiting with select Senate offices regarding this legislation.

To: Members of the U.S. Senate

From: Elisabeth MacNamara, President

Re: S. 1176, Reinvigorating Presidential Public Financing

The League of Women Voters urges you to cosponsor S. 1176, the Empower Act, introduced by Senator Tom Udall. The bill would repair and reinvigorate the public financing system for candidates in presidential elections. And it would do so by putting small donors at the center of campaign financing.

Our nation is facing a crisis as big money from a select few is coming to dominate our elections. It is undermining the political equality that is based on every citizen’s equal voice in the voting booth. It is distorting election debates and our election system.  And it is reinforcing the belief that our government is subject to undue influence and corruption. 

S. 1176 addresses this crisis by providing presidential candidates a path toward equitable competition based on small donations. The bill provides a six-to-one match for contributions up to $250, lowers contribution limits for participating candidates, and allows increased coordinated spending by political parties with funds raised from small donors. To ensure that a candidate can respond to any unlimited spending from outside sources, the legislation does not have a spending limit for participating candidates. 

It is important to remember that the current presidential public financing system began to malfunction largely because Congress failed to take any steps to update and modernize the system. S. 1176 addresses those failures by indexing key elements to inflation, including the income tax check-off that provides funds for the program. Significantly, it includes an anti-bundling provision.       

The presidential public financing system served the nation well for twenty-five years. During this period all but a few Democratic and Republican presidential candidates participated in the system, including every President elected from 1976 to 2000.  But the presidential system is broken today. It needs to be repaired and updated to deal with the new world of campaign finance, which, unfortunately, includes Super PACs and other groups that can spend unlimited funds to influence an election, often in secret.    

The League of Women Voters urges you to cosponsor S. 1176.