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H.R. 20 (114th): Government By the People Act of 2015

The campaign finance system has come under attack by both parties. It may be the only issue Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders all agree on. In the past few years, several existing campaign finance restrictions have been struck down by the Supreme Court, opening the floodgates for nearly-unlimited political expenditures: just 158 families now provide half of all the political campaign money in the country.

H.R. 20, the Government by the People Act introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD3), is a leading Democratic congressional proposal to level the playing field. The bill would give every citizen a voucher worth up to $50 through a “My Voice Tax Credit” for campaign contributions in $5 increments, and it would aim to make small donations as influential as large donations by matching any donation on a six-to-one level through the establish of a Freedom From Influence Fund.

What supporters say

“We know that if the role of money in our elections were reduced and the level of civility in our politics increased, the result would be the election of more women, more minorities, more young people and more people dedicated to serving the public interest, not special interests,” Sarbanes and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) wrote. “Most members of Congress would leap at the chance to fund their campaigns without having to turn to a familiar cast of big donors and entrenched interests. Today, that’s virtually impossible.”

The vast majority of Democrats have come on board, with 157 Democratic cosponsors out of the 188 Democrats in the House. One Republican has cosponsored: Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC3). “I am greatly troubled by the undue influence that fat cat lobbyists and special interests have” over federal policy, Jones said. “Now, more than ever, secretive special interest money plays an enormous role in our electoral process and in governing.”

What opponents say

Most Republicans have celebrated the recent Supreme Court deregulation decisions such as Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC as victories for First Amendment free speech rights. They contend this bill would amount to government funding of private speech, plus that it would contribute to levels of unsustainable government spending. (Democrats claim that the My Voice Tax Credit would not increase the deficit; see below.)

The bill therefore faces stiff opposition from the Republicans, pretty much every other congressional Republican besides Walter Jones. For comparison, a 2010 bill to re-implement most of the provisions struck down by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC only received two House Republican yes votes and was filibustered by Senate Republicans. And that was in 2010 — House Republicans on average have only moved further to the right since then.

Outlook

A companion bill in the Senate introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) has essentially the same components though a different title: S. 1538, the Fair Elections Now Act. With 23 cosponsors, none of whom are Republicans, the Senate version makes the House bill look bipartisan by comparison. Durbin claimed in a press release announcing the legislation that even though the bill would create a new source of spending, it wouldn’t increase the deficit, raising the revenue to offset it by instituting a .05% fee on annual federal contracts over $10 million.

Sarbanes’s bill didn’t even come up for a vote after it was introduced last Congress, just as yet to come up for a vote this time around.

Last updated Apr 13, 2016. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jan 21, 2015.


Government By the People Act of 2015

Amends the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) to allow a refundable credit of 50% of qualified congressional House campaign contributions paid or incurred during the taxable year (contributions of cash by an individual to a House candidate or a political committee established and maintained by a national political party if the contribution is not prohibited under the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 [FECA], to be known as "My Voice Federal" contributions).

Directs the Government by the People Oversight Commission, established by this Act, to launch a pilot program under which it shall select three eligible states to operate a voucher pilot program.

Requires a state under a voucher pilot program to provide each qualified individual during the election cycle, upon his or her request, with a "My Voice Voucher" worth $50, which will be assigned a routing number. Authorizes the individual to submit the My Voice Voucher to qualified federal election candidates, allocating a portion of its value in $5 increments. Requires the Commission to pay any candidate who transmits a My Voice Voucher that portion of its value which the individual allocated to the candidate. Considers this transaction a contribution by the individual to the candidate for purposes of FECA.

Requires a state operating a voucher pilot program also to permit an individual to revoke a My Voice Voucher within two days after submitting it to a candidate. Requires such a state to establish a commission or designate an existing entity to oversee and implement the program in the state, except that no such commission or entity may be composed of elected officials.

Amends FECA with respect to:

benefits for participating House of Representatives candidates; Federal Election Commission (FEC) payments to such candidates; candidate use of payments; qualified small dollar contributions, expenditures, and fundraising requirements; certification of participating candidates; campaign administration; prevention of the unnecessary spending of public funds; establishment of the Freedom From Influence Fund in the Treasury and of a Government by the People Oversight Commission in the FEC; remittal of unspent funds to the Freedom From Influence Fund after an election; eligibility of participating candidates for additional payments; civil penalties for violation of contribution and expenditure requirements; a Commission action appeals process; and contributions and expenditures by multicandidate and political party political committees on behalf of participating candidates. Prohibits a certified participating candidate's authorized committee from establishing a joint fundraising committee with any political committee other than another authorized committee of the candidate.

Prohibits a certified participating candidate from establishing, financing, maintaining, or controlling a leadership PAC (political action committee).

Prohibits use of contributions by a participating candidate for any purposes other than an election campaign.

Revises bundler disclosure requirements to repeal a specified exception and so require disclosure of persons who provided bundled contributions to the reporting committee.

Amends FECA to empower the FEC to petition the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari to appeal a civil action to enforce the Act.

Requires all political committee designations, statements, and reports required to be filed under FECA to be filed: (1) directly with the FEC; and (2) in electronic form accessible by computers. Reduces to 24 hours after their receipt the deadline for the FEC to make designations, statements, reports, or notifications available to the public in the FEC office and on the Internet.

Amends the Communications Act of 1934 to set a station's lowest unit price for preemptible use as the charge for a broadcast by the national committee of a political party for an affiliated candidate.

Authorizes the FEC to revoke a broadcast station license or construction permit only for at least three willful failures to allow reasonable access to, or to permit purchase of reasonable amounts of time for the use of, a broadcasting station or cable system by a legally qualified candidate for federal office.

Amends the IRC to allow taxpayers to designate overpayments of tax for contribution to the Freedom From Influence Fund.