2020 contender Kirsten Gillibrand, currently polling negligibly in a crowded presidential primary field, has released a policy proposal that’s making waves today: give every eligible citizen a taxpayer-subsidized 600 “Democracy Dollars” to donate towards political candidates, with $200 each designated for the presidential race, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. This, she says, is a move towards “clean elections,” because “every American’s voice should be as loud as the Koch Brothers.’”
Let’s examine that. Very few Americans give more than $200 towards presidential candidates (with a maximum allowable donation of $2,700). And the ones who do tend to be disproportionately richer. But Gillibrand’s proposal is a terrible way to level the field and to undo the problems that money in politics creates.
Why? First, it would simply multiply the amount of money in politics by an order of magnitude, with effects that wouldn’t be good for the political system at large, but would be good for ad buyers and PR flacks and political operatives. It was reported in 2017 that election watchdog Open Secrets put the final total pricetag of America’s 2016 political races for the presidency, Senate, and House of Representatives at roughly $6.5bn.