The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other people of color have led to a watershed moment in American history. For the first time in more than 50 years, Americans are taking a hard look at the lengths to which racism still poisons the land of the free.
The lack of representation among elected officials is often cited as an example. Minorities composed nearly 40 percent of the population in 2016, yet they hold less than 25 percent of congressional and state offices. The current 116th Congress has been lauded as the most diverse in history, but it still lags in proportional representation. The picture on the state level is even bleaker, with minorities holding only 14 percent of state legislative seats. Meanwhile, donors to federal election campaigns are overwhelmingly white.
This presents a problem. When the donor class and elected officials fail to reflect their constituents and the greater population, there is less onus on actually executing the will of the people, and the issues affecting people of color in the United States are routinely overshadowed by policymakers. Additionally, the growth of privately-financed elections and big money in politics has created significant barriers to entry, notably to people of color, that perpetuates this lack of diversity.
Enter public campaign financing.
Public campaign financing is part of a larger solution to combat a lack of representation for people of color. This happens in a number of ways:
- Public campaign financing has historically proven to increase donor diversity. For example, after Seattle instituted its democracy voucher program, campaign contributions from neighborhoods with non-white majorities increased a whopping 46 percent.
- By eliminating the reliance on dialing for dollars, candidates can shift their focus to the needs of their constituents, taking more time to speak with them one-on-one about the issues that affect their lives.
- Under normal circumstances, potential candidates often must rely on an existing network of private donors to which they may or may not have access. (Can you guess which ones end up becoming candidates in this scenario?) Public campaign financing, however, removes this barrier to entry, allowing a diverse group of candidates to throw their hats in the ring. Examples of this have taken place in New York City, Arizona, and Maine.
Public campaign financing has been endorsed as part of the Movement for Black Lives’ platform on political power, and it was a major element of the House’s For The People Act. Click here for more of our coverage on public campaign financing.