Friday, March 29, 2013

Money in Politics This Week

Every Friday, the Brennan Center will be compiling the latest news concerning the corrosive nature of money in New York State politics—and the ongoing need for public financing and robust campaign finance reform. We’ll also be linking to dispatches from around the country highlighting the national scope of this crisis. This week’s links were contributed by Syed Zaidi.

For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtag
#moNeYpolitics and #fairelex.



Utica Observer-Dispatch Editorial on Matching Small Donations
The Utica Observer-Dispatch editorialized in favor of campaign finance reform on Sunday. Governor Cuomo and Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk have both championed the call for reform. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stands behind the initiative as well. “It’s an issue that politicians love to talk about, and it’s time they put that money where their mouth is and reform campaign financing once and for all.” The current system allows incumbents to raise large sums of campaign cash in a myriad of ways, including from lobbyists looking for political favors. Campaign war chests can be multiplied through investments in bonds and mutual funds. This discourages rising challengers. Matching small donations with public funds, and reducing the size of big donations for candidates willing to participate in such a system offers an alternative to campaigns dominated by wealthy special interests. Opponents afraid of the cost to taxpayers would do well to know that the relatively miniscule monetary expense is “well worth the trade off to drive out special interests whose big bucks influence decisions that ultimately cost the public in many ways.”

Former U.S. Representative Mike Arcuri: Congress Too Reliant on Big Contributions
On Thursday, former U.S. Representative Mike Arcuri (D-NY) made the case for public campaign financing by matching small donations to The Syracuse Post-Standard. Representative Arcuri explained the negative ramifications that big campaign contributions have on public policy. “There’s something inherently difficult about voting on a bill that you know the stakeholders … have threatened to support your opponent if you don’t,” Arcuri stated. The former Congressman said that based on his tenure, this was a common predicament on nearly every issue. “I had to think about how will this affect my contributor, really, I should not have been considering that.” Matching small donations by adopting a comprehensive fair elections system can reverse this scenario, so that Representatives are dependent upon their constituents rather than a few wealthy individuals, corporations, and PACs.

Former U.S. Representative Tom Perillo: It’s Time for Campaign Finance Reform
In an Albany Times-Union op-ed, Tom Perriello, former Congressional Representative from Virginia, makes a strong case for campaign finance reform in New York State. Perriello argues that despite the flood of money in the 2012 election, New Yorkers can still reclaim their government. By matching small donations with public funds and reducing New York’s sky high contribution limits, ordinary New Yorkers can regain control over their representatives in Albany. New York City, which has operated under this clean elections system for 20 years, has certainly reaped the benefits. “City Council candidates now hustle to gather contributions from scores of small donors,” and new donors “are more economically, racially and geographically diverse.” Although some are concerned about the tax costs of implementing public financing, ordinary taxpayers would be the big winners because it would drastically diminish government giveaways to wealthy interests. “Closing just a few tax loopholes currently protected by the influence of major donors could more than cover the cost of citizen-funded elections.”

New York Lobbying Reports Reveal the Biggest Spenders of 2012
Disclosure records from the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics reveal the biggest lobbying spenders in the state. New York enacted the nation’s first system of disclosure of funding sources for entities spending more than $50,000 per year on lobbying expenditures after the passage of the Public Integrity Act of 2011. According to the Democrat and Chronicle, there was a seven percent drop in lobbying, from $220 million in 2011 to $205 million last year. The biggest spender was the Committee to Save New York, a business group that supports Governor Cuomo’s fiscal agenda. The group spent $4.2 million in 2012. Exxon Mobil Corporation was the second largest spender of the year, dolling out $2.1 million in 2012. Major League Soccer, which is seeking to open a new stadium in Queens, came in third, also nearing $2.1 million in lobbying expenditures. According to Kelly Williams, corporate general counsel at the Brennan Center, the new regulations ensure that voters can “tell who is trying to influence the legislative process,” especially when entities with vague and unrecognizable names tacitly conduct expensive lobbying campaigns.

Organizing for Action Joins Fair Elections for New York Campaign
Organizing for Action, a team of grassroots volunteers formed from President Obama’s campaign organization, has decided to join the movement for campaign finance reform in New York State. At a conference call for members, OFA executive director Jon Carson stated that the group will help build momentum for the fair elections effort in the final three months of the state legislative session. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, also on the call, informed participants that public financing of elections is “essential in a post-Citizens United world.” The campaign finance push is OFA's first foray into state politics and away from Obama's presidential agenda. The Fair Elections for New York coalition, a diverse array of reform, good-government, and business organizations is already active on the issue, organizing house parties and rallies, gathering signatures for petitions, and lobbying legislators in Albany. OFA’s lead New York organizer Kate Stevens, said OFA volunteers will be doing grassroots organizing as well, including house parties, educational forums, and reaching out to friends and neighbors.


Washington Post op-ed: Small Donor Democracy Can Replace Status Quo
In a Washington Post, op-ed E.J. Doinne Jr. describes the current battle over gun control as an advertising contest between proponents of regulations such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg and opponents such as the NRA. Unfortunately politics has been reduced to a “contest between liberal rich people and conservative rich people” in America. The post-Citizens United world is infused with nonstop fundraising, political spending and permanent campaigning. As political strategists dismiss campaign contribution limits and Organizing for Action plans to accept large donations, Doinne suggests an alternative. It would be far better for the Obama administration to concentrate “primarily on building off the pioneering work his campaigns did in rallying small donors.” Unfortunately, too many politicians are growing comfortable with the status quo of big money campaigns. Two Congressional Representatives that refuse to are David Price (D-NC) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). They are sponsoring the Empowering Citizens Act, which would match contributions under $250 with public funds at a 5 to 1 ratio. Other members of Congress would do well to add their names as co-sponsors and publicly voice their support.

Do You Ever Wonder What Your Former Congressman Is Doing?
USA Today reports that 16 lawmakers that left Congress recently have now jumped on board with lobbying groups. The analysis looks at lawmakers who retired, resigned or lost their seats in the last Congress and the new Congress. Although rules forbid former Representatives and Senators from directly lobbying Congress for one and two years respectively, there are no restrictions on providing advice and consulting services to organizations seeking to shape federal legislation. Former lawmakers are allowed to lobby the executive branch and state and local governments without any moratorium. Former Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) who resigned from Congress in January, is now the President and CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Scott Brown, the former Massachusetts Senator who was defeated in November, will be joining the lobbying firm Nixon Peabody. Scott received extensive contributions from the financial services, real estate and insurance industry during his Congressional race. The firm’s D.C. clients include Goldman Sachs and Sallie Mae.

Public Financing Bill Clears Hawaii Senate Committee
On Thursday, the Hawaii Senate Ways and Means Committee recommended the passage of House Bill 1481, which passed the state House earlier this month. Currently, Hawaii has a partial public funding program, but only one legislative candidate participated in 2012. The new legislative proposal aims to strengthen the program. Under the new system, candidates who collect a certain number of signatures and qualifying contributions from registered voters to show broad-based community support would be eligible to receive a public grant to fund their campaigns. An interview with the lead sponsor of the bill, Hawaii State Representative Della Au Belatti (D), is available at the Public Campaign website. “It would … really free political candidates and elected officials from having to chase after money, which we so often have to do,” she stated.

West Virginia House of Delegates Passes Resolution to Encourage Congress to Overturn Citizens United
The West Virginia House of Delegates is asking Congress to enact a constitutional amendment overturning the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. House Resolution 9, which passed 60-39 on Thursday, asks Congress to draft a constitutional amendment that will allow for corporations to be regulated in terms of how much money they can donate and spend on politics. Proposed amendments need to either (a) receive backing from three-fifths of the members of the U.S. House and Senate or (b) attain support for a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of all state legislatures, before they can be considered for ratification by the states (three-quarters of the state legislatures are required to approve) and added to the Constitution. House Resolution 9 is advisory in nature and does not call for a constitutional convention. Referring to corporations, Delegate John Ellem (R-Wood) stated, “Since a corporation is a tool for commerce, I strongly believe being a tool we created, we have the power, we as the legislative body, and the Supreme Court has chimed in on it, but we have the right to impose restrictions."

Friday, March 22, 2013

Money in Politics This Week

Every Friday, the Brennan Center will be compiling the latest news concerning the corrosive nature of money in New York State politics—and the ongoing need for public financing and robust campaign finance reform. We’ll also be linking to dispatches from around the country highlighting the national scope of this crisis. This week’s links were contributed by Syed Zaidi.

For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtag
#moNeYpolitics and #fairelex.



League of Women Voters of NYS Launches Series of Forums
In the Journal News, Madeline Zevon, president of the League of Women Voters of White Plains, asks voters to help pass campaign finance reform in order to clean up our elections. The League of Women Voters has launched a series of forums around the state to educate citizens about viable solutions to the millions of dollars that flow unchecked into our elections. Governor Andrew Cuomo has already established reform as an important priority following the completion of the state budget. Zevon illustrates how New York City’s reforms 20 years ago drastically transformed the political system, allowing small grassroots donors to participate actively in the government. New York State legislators on the other hand, are still forced to spend an inordinate amount of time raising money for their campaigns, instead of meeting with their constituents or severing their needs. By limiting the size of campaign contributions, closing loopholes, and mandating disclosure from big donors, we can restore this relationship and increase public trust in Albany.

He Who Pays the Piper Calls the Tune
In New York politics, the saying “he who pays the piper calls the tune” rings true now more than ever. A small group of rich and powerful campaign donors help to elect their favorite candidates to office, and then call the tune once they reach Albany. As Heather McGee explains in an Amsterdam News op-ed, this process shuts out average New Yorkers as their voices are “overwhelmed by campaign checks bigger than most Black New Yorkers’ yearly paychecks.” Adopting a Fair Elections system, with low contribution limits, timely disclosure of donations and public matching of funds for small donations, can empower citizens to demand and expect more from our elected officials. With these reforms, it would be worthwhile for state legislative candidates to knock on our doors and listen to our concerns, rather than spending all day at $500-a-plate fundraisers with lobbyists.  

Auburn Citizen Editorial Asks Albany to Initiate a Public Financing Program
This week, The Auburn Citizen ran an editorial arguing that campaign finance reform is necessary to resolve the dysfunction in Albany. Although the state budget is on track for completion this year, the public is still largely shut out of legislative process. Deal making behind closed doors remains the norm. This can change if we elect more responsive public servants to office. Currently incumbents enjoy remarkable advantages in fundraising. They can obtain a heavy portion of their donations from special interests and mega-donors rather than small, individual donors in their districts. Qualified challengers, fearful of these large war chests, do not compete. Establishing a public financing system and matching small donations can alter this scenario. Earlier analysis by the State Senate demonstrated that there is $240 million in extra revenue available for the upcoming budget. A “portion of those funds could easily help get a public financing program started,” according to the newspaper.


DiNapoli and de Blasio Urge SEC to Push for Corporate Disclosure
In an op-ed in the New York Times, Thomas DiNapoli, New York State comptroller, and Bill de Blasio, New York City public advocate, urge the SEC to create a rule mandating the disclosure of political spending by publicly held corporations. Earlier this month, DiNapoli successfully pressured tech giant Qualcomm to publicly disclose its political spending by filing a suit against the firm. This Tuesday, the Senate Banking Committee voted 21 to 1 in favor of Mary Jo White, President Obama’s nomination to the Securities and Exchange Commission. DiNapoli and de Blasio insist, “if she really wants to make a difference, Ms. White, a former federal prosecutor, should tap into some of that good will in her first days in office and push forward a vital proposed rule on corporate disclosure that the SEC has been considering for over a year and a half.” The reform has been suggested in a petition to the SEC by 10 legal scholars. It has received nearly half a million comments, and virtually all of them in support of the initiative. Currently corporations do not have to reveal contributions to tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations that are used as clandestine vehicles for electioneering through sham issue ads . Pension officials, fiduciaries and regulators all have a compelling interest to ensure that consumers and shareholders have adequate knowledge about how their investments are being utilized by corporations.  

Wyoming District Court Dismisses Case Challenging FEC Regulations
On March 19, 2013, the District Court of Wyoming issued an order granting the FEC’s motion to dismiss a suit by the organization, Free Speech. Free Speech is an unincorporated association based in Wyoming with a mission of promoting “free speech, limited government, and constitutional accountability.” The organization planned on using individual donations to finance $10,000 in Internet, newspaper, TV and radio ads independently of federal candidates, political parties or committees. Free Speech challenged the Federal Election Commission’s definition of express advocacy and other requirements for political committees and independent expenditures. The Court dismissed the challenge, reasoning that the FEC’s definition of express advocacy encapsulates Buckeley’s “magic words” as well as their “functional equivalent[s].” As for political committee registrations, the FEC adopted a sensible approach to determining whether an organization qualifies for PAC status. The “Commission’s multi-factor major-purpose test is consistent with Supreme Court precedent and does not unlawfully deter protected speech,” the decision stated.

Lobbying Industry Not in Decline, Merely Hidden
Reports throughout the past year have discussed how the lobbying industry is on the decline due to the recession, Congressional gridlock and the Obama administration’s reforms. However new research from the Center for Responsive Politics indicates that there is more to the story. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of registered lobbyists decreased by 25 percent, while expenditures of the 100 biggest lobbying firms increased by 19 percent. The precipitous drop in the number of lobbyists may be due to changes in reporting rules. The Lobbying Disclosure Act requires regular reports from individuals who make at least two lobbying contacts with covered government officials and spend at least 20 percent of their time on lobbying activities for which they are paid. Lobbyists and lobbying firms may be taking advantage of this feature by working as policy advisors and in other "unlobbyist" positions. More than 46 percent of the lobbyists who were active in 2011 but not in 2012 still work for the same employer, indicating that they have skirted reporting requirements, while still contributing to lobbying efforts.

Two Congressmen Face Ethics Investigations
The House Ethics Committee has commenced investigations to determine whether two Congressmen improperly used their campaign funds for personal expenses. Representatives Don Young (D-AK) and Robert Andrews (D-NJ) also face allegations that they made false statements to federal officials regarding the expenditures. Representative Young is being accused by a former aide of dipping into his campaign treasury for hunting trips, meals and charter flights to Alaska, in addition to separate hunting trips he took between 2001 and 2007, that were paid for by an outside party but went unreported in financial disclosure statements. Representative Andrews faces allegations that he used campaign money to pay for his daughter’s graduation and personal trips to Scotland and Los Angeles. The cost of business-class plane tickets, hotel, food, flowers and gifts for the Scotland trip totals to $30,000. Spokesmen for both lawmakers insist that they did not violate House rules.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Voter Friendly Ballot Act is Good for New York

Published in the Poughkeepsie Journal.

Recently, President Obama announced the creation of a federal commission to help improve citizens’ voting experiences at the polls. Here’s an obvious suggestion for improvement in New York: Make our ballots easier for voters to use.

In your polling place in November, things may have looked a little bit different than in the past. For the first time, New Yorkers used optical scanning machines and paper ballots to vote in a presidential election. Many voters, particularly older voters and those with impaired vision, found the paper ballots difficult to read and use. This is because they did not change to reflect our new voting system: Our ballot requirements stayed the same while our ballot size shrunk significantly. As a result, voters faced a crowded and confusing ballot that at best made the voting experience more difficult and at worst invalidated otherwise legitimate votes.

New York’s ballots are governed by strict, outdated guidelines intended for the retired mechanical voting machines. These rules do not allow best practices for paper ballots, and led to our 2012 ballots containing complicated instructions, outdated symbols, small text size and confusing oval placement. Unfortunately, without a change in New York’s codified election law, local election officials are prevented from improving the voter experience in their community.

There can be little question that poor ballot design leads to a far more negative experience for voters. As a 2010 statewide survey by the League of Women Voters found, up to 20 percent of voters had problems completing the paper ballot. Poorly designed ballots can invalidate votes and interfere with the integrity of our election process. The Brennan Center has estimated that design defects in ballots and voter instructions contributed to the loss of several hundred thousand votes in the last two federal elections. Evidence suggests that low-income and elderly voters particularly bear the brunt of poorly designed ballots, raising fundamental issues of access to the political process.

We can do better.

The Voter Friendly Ballot Act of 2013, sponsored by state Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh and endorsed by the AARP, the Brennan Center for Justice, and many other organizations concerned with voting rights, would set new standards to ensure that New Yorkers can vote with confidence while preserving flexibility for local election administrators. Voter instructions would be shortened and clarified, legibility would be increased by reducing the maximum number of languages appearing on the ballot, and text size would be made more readable, among other improvements.

There are many complex issues facing our voting system that President Obama’s commission needs to address. For our ballot design problems, however, the solution is simple— update our rules so they better reflect our new voting process and improve the voting experience of all New Yorkers.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Money in Politics This Week

Every Friday, the Brennan Center will be compiling the latest news concerning the corrosive nature of money in New York State politics—and the ongoing need for public financing and robust campaign finance reform. We’ll also be linking to dispatches from around the country highlighting the national scope of this crisis. This week’s links were contributed by Syed Zaidi.

For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtag
#moNeYpolitics and #fairelex.


Governor Cuomo Reaffirms Commitment to Campaign Finance Reform at Business Luncheon
On Friday, March 8, Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered the keynote address at a luncheon for business and civic leaders hosted by the Committee for Economic Development, along with the Brennan Center for Justice, New York Leadership for Accountable Government, Americans for Campaign Finance Reform and the League of Women Voters. The Governor reaffirmed his commitment to citizen-funded elections, saying that he supports “aggressive” campaign finance reform modeled on New York City’s small-donor matching system. A complete video of the Governor’s speech is available on the Brennan Center website.

Media outlets throughout the state covered the reception. The New York Times was optimistic about the prospects of campaign finance reform appearing on the legislative agenda this year, asserting that it will be “one of the top policy debates that is likely to come up in Albany after the state budget is completed this month.” The Epoch Times and Buffalo News highlighted the Governor’s strategy for pressuring the legislature: he will go to the public with the proposal. “Politicians quickly do the calculation what it means to be against a popular position,” Cuomo said. “If the politician does not follow the people, then you can replace the politician.” Celinda Lake, president of the polling firm, Lake Research Partners, and one of the panelists at the luncheon, stated that public support for reform is very high. A December, 2012 poll by Lake Research demonstrates that 83 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of Independents, and 74 percent of Republicans support a system of citizen-funded elections in New York State. “If you want to look for a bipartisan issue in today’s polarized politics, ironically, it is campaign finance reform,” said Celinda Lake.

Governor Cuomo Holds Telephone Town Hall, Urges Citizens to Fight for Fair Elections
Following the business luncheon on Friday, Governor Cuomo addressed 1,350 campaign finance reform supporters via a Telephone Town Hall this Monday. The conference call was organized by the Fair Elections New York coalition. “I don’t think there’s anyone who argues that the New York State campaign finance laws are working particularly well,Cuomo said, according to the Daily News. The Governor reiterated his call for citizen-funded elections, similar to those held in New York City. He pointed out that matching small donations with public funds would only cost $30 million out of a $140 billion plus budget. He said significant public pressure would be needed in order to convince lawmakers to agree to a policy that will directly affect them. In addition to public financing, Cuomo has called for swift disclosure deadlines, lower contribution levels and a more effective Board of Elections. Several grassroots organizations on the call, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Communications Workers of America, Metropolitan Council on Housing and Sierra Club explained why campaign finance reform was relevant for their policy agenda. Audio clips from the call are available here.

With Citizen-funded Elections, NY Can Be a National Model
In the Huffington Post, Zephyr Teachout, Associate Professor of Law at Fordham Law School, explains how April in New York State can change the country in five steps. “Right now, state candidates spend their days trying to calibrate policy for PepsiCo, Pfizer, JP Morgan and Citigroup…Their stump speeches to the public and their private speeches to donors don't connect.” But if small donor matching funds are instituted, candidates that raise $50 will receive six times that amount in public funds. To raise half a million according to the new proposal, state candidates collectively would need 1,500 $50 contributions (1500 * 50 * 7 = $525,000), rather than contributions from a few mega-donors. “The new way of raising money will lead to a new Albany.” Elected officials will be more responsive to their constituents instead of out-of-district donors. If New York follows through with lower contribution limits and public financing, it can serve as a great model for the rest of the nation.  

Citizen-funded Elections Would Correct the “Democracy Deficit”
In an op-ed in the Poughkeepsie Journal, the executive director of Citizen Action of New York, Karen Scharff, marshals powerful arguments in favor of citizen-funded elections. She laments that lobbyists and fundraisers use their political contributions to “skew lawmaker priorities away from the public interest and toward their own narrow concerns,” resulting in a loss of public faith in government. Scharff argues that this “democracy deficit needs to be corrected with bold reforms that transform our politics and put the people at the center of election campaigns.” The matching-fund system that the Governor and others in Albany are pushing for would encourage candidates who are raising funds to talk to voters and not to big donors who represent the special interests. Scharff points out that the cost of citizen-funding is well worth it: “Fair elections will also produce a high return on investment through a more effective and efficient government.”

Siena Poll Shows 61% Support Public Financing of Campaigns in NY
A significant majority of New Yorkers favor citizen-funded elections, according to a new Siena College poll. In response to the question “Do you support or oppose creating a system of public campaign financing in New York that would limit the size of political contributions to candidates and use state money to match smaller contributions made to candidates for state offices?,” 61 percent of registered voters replied that they support the idea. The figure is a slight increase from January of this year when 59 percent were behind the initiative. According to Siena pollster Steve Greenberg, “two-thirds of Democrats, 60 percent of independents and a plurality of Republicans [are] behind it.” Sixty-nine percent of New York City residents, 56 percent of suburbanites and 56 percent of Upstate voters are in favor of the reforms. Jonathan Soros, chief executive officer of JS Capital Management, said the poll shows that New Yorkers want the state to implement a public campaign financing system. With respect to the Governor’s proposal, he stated that "Cuomo has recognized this problem and has identified the solution.”


New Report by Demos Shows How Our Campaign Finance System Undermines Economic Mobility
A new report by Demos, Stacked Deck, evaluates the mutually reinforcing relationship between political inequality and economic inequality. Our current political system magnifies the voices of large donors, and minimizes those of average Americans. Consequently the policies that are produced by our politicians neglect the preferences of a large majority of Americans, exacerbating the general trajectory of increasing economic inequality. Big donors and the general public have different policy preferences. For example, when asked if they agree with a minimum wage high enough so that no family with a full-time worker falls below the official poverty line, 78 percent of the general public concur compared to only 40 percent of those with an average annual income greater than $1 million. The Demos report draws in part on research by Dr. Martin Gilens. According to Dr. Gilens, “For people at the top 10 percent, you could predict what the government would do based on their preferences. But when the preferences of people at lower income levels diverged from the affluent, that had no impact at all on the policies that were adopted. That was true not only for the poor but for the middle class as well.”

Senate Considers SEC and CFPB Appointments
This week, the Senate Banking Committee considered the nomination of Mary Jo White to head the Securities and Exchange Commission. White has spent most of the past decade litigating on behalf of large financial institutions. She also served as a U.S. attorney in Manhattan for nine years, prosecuting terrorists and mobsters. The Banking Committee seemed more interested in White’s recreational habits than potential concerns about the revolving door between Wall Street and the SEC. When pressed regarding her white-collar defense work by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), White insisted that as a lawyer “you represent different kinds of clients, and you are ethically bound to represent them to the best of your ability, and I have done that. That doesn’t mean I embrace the policy thoughts of any of my clients in particular.” In contrast to White’s nomination hearing, Richard Cordray, Obama’s pick for the watchdog Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, faced a much tougher audience. Eight Senators, who had vowed to block his reappointment earlier, questioned Cordray about the CFPB’s “transparency.” These eight Senators, listed on the Public Campaign website, have accepted nearly $25.7 million from the financial sector over their careers.

Aggregate Contribution Limits Increase Electoral Competition
In response to the Supreme Court’s decision to hear a case challenging aggregate contribution limits, Jonathan Backer, research associate at the Brennan Center, explains in the Huffington Post why striking down those limits would dramatically alter the nation’s campaign finance landscape for the worse. Aggregate limits restrict the total amount of money that a donor can contribute to political races. They ensure that candidates do not solicit $1 million donations to benefit themselves and their party. Recent legislative proposals as well as statements by campaign strategists argue that raising or eliminating contribution limits can allow new candidates to compete against incumbents. However in reality, high contribution limits make the task of fundraising much easier for incumbents as they can tap into established networks and amass even bigger war chests. Empirical research by the Brennan Center and Dr. Thomas Stratmann, a professor of Economics at George Mason University, shows that higher contribution limits lead to less competitive elections. When compared with states with the highest limits, low contribution limits ($500 or less) reduce an incumbent’s margin of victory by 14.5 percent.