Providing options for candidates beyond traditional, major donor-funded campaigns is a crucial measure of a state’s willingness to prioritize healthy democratic institutions. Lack of access to donor networks is a major barrier to political office for women and Communities of Color. As one Demos report put it, “this big money system filters out qualified, credible candidates who lack access to large donors.” Federally, organizing around the Government By the People Act has brought attention to and fostered awareness of the need for a small-dollar matching program of public campaign financing, incentivizing both candidates and small-dollar donors to participate in a system that “puts the U.S. Congress back in the hands of ordinary Americans.” On a parallel but equally important track, state advocates have enacted a variety of laws that provide for several different forms of public campaign financing.
Given the variation in both the size and scope of a state’s public financing systems, as well as the various contribution limits by which publicly funded and traditionally funded candidates must abide, it is beyond the scope of this report to provide a qualitative assessment of each state’s financing system. Rather, this report gauges whether states have taken steps to mitigate the influence of large donors by offering some form of public financing.
For a more detailed explanation of each factor, including citations, please download the full report.
Public financing can both help end the underrepresentation of women and Communities of Color in elected office and ensure that average citizens, not just the wealthy and well connected, have a voice in the political process. States should implement public campaign financing options, understanding that the true gauge of success is the extent to which the system is effective enough to be attractive for candidate participation. Thus, these campaign financing options must be built in such a way that candidates accepting public funding are not disadvantaged against traditionally funded candidates. Furthermore, such systems should seek to incentivize small-dollar donor participation to ensure that candidates seek a broad base of support, rather than relying on a handful of wealthy and well-connected individuals.
Click here to see a full list of policy recommendations to improve the health of state democracies based on the findings of this report.