Campaign finance reform is needed to keep California’s 2016 U.S. Senate race from being bought by a small number of deep-pocketed donors, a consumer advocacy group said Wednesday.
The California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) is pushing for a federal program that would match small contributions with limited public funds, so that grassroots candidates relying on small donors can compete with big-money candidates.
“California is no exception to the rule of big donor domination of politics,” CALPIRG campaign organizer Zach Weinstein said in a news release. “Any candidate who wants to run a viable campaign for Senate in 2016 will need to raise millions and millions of dollars to do so, and our current system makes that level of fundraising nearly impossible if you rely on small donors. Unless you’re connected to a network of big donors, you’re out of the running before you even start. The reforms we’re proposing could fundamentally change that system.”
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., announced last week that she won’t seek a fifth six-year term in 2016. California Attorney General Kamala Harris declared her candidacy Tuesday, and although Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has opted out, several other well-known names are considering whether to run.
Candidates in California’s last four Senate elections raised an average of $8.76 million, according to a memo issued Wednesday by CALPIRG; the highest amount, $23.17 million, was raised by Boxer for her 2010 re-election battle against Republican Carly Fiorina, who raised $11.63 million.
Current rules say individual donors can give up to $2,600 to a candidate for a primary election and another $2,600 for the general election for a total of $5,200 per campaign cycle; the Federal Election Commission will to revise this limit upward in the next few weeks after receiving new Consumer Price Index figures from the Labor Department.
But based on the current limit, a Senate candidate would have to raise more than $13,000 from individuals every day from now until Election Day in order to hit the average $8.76 million mark, CALPIRG notes. For a candidate relying on donors who “max out,” that’s five donors per day; for a candidate relying on small donors giving an average of $150, that’s 88 donors per day.
“When campaigns are paid for by big donors, those are the voices candidates hear the loudest,” Weinstein said. “In a democracy based on the principle of one person, one vote, small donors should be at the center of campaign finance – not an afterthought.”