Gillibrand: Democracy Dollars ‘Democratize Democracy’

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) said Wednesday her “Democracy Dollars” plan would “democratize democracy,” insisting it would create more participation in elections and get “money out of politics.”

“What it does is it allows more people to participate in our democracy,” she said on MSNBC. “It democratizes democracy, because right now it’s been corrupted, and most people have no faith in our elected leaders because of the money and influence in politics.”

“People have lost faith that their government works for them and lost faith that our democracy actually works,” she said. “So if you’re not willing to take on the greed and corruption that really destroy our democracy daily, you will never be able to get the things done that you want.”

Gillibrand released her first major proposal as a 2020 candidate, where voters could petition the Federal Elections Commission for up to $600, which they could then donate to House, Senate, and presidential candidates—$100 for the primary and $100 for the general in each election. The money could only go to candidates who wanted to participate in “Democracy Dollars” as well, but they would have to forgo all donations north of $200—the current individual donation limit is $2,800 for the primary and general election cycles, respectively.

The program is modeled after one in Seattle where all eligible voters were allocated $100 to donate in municipal elections. Although Gillibrand claimed her plan would increase participation, Reason reported only 3.3 percent of recipients of the vouchers participated in 2017 and the winning slate of candidates were largely establishment-backed and incumbents.

MSNBC host Chris Hayes chuckled at the $600 amount, saying it “seems like a lot of money to me.” Gillibrand said it was a “modest amount of money” and reiterated voters could choose to participate.

Her campaign said it could raise $60 billion over 10 years to pay for the program by limiting a corporate deduction for executive compensation. However, if even 10 percent of 2016’s roughly 230 million eligible voters sought their $600 allocation, it would cost $13.8 billion. The last two election cycles saw a total of $12.2 billion spent by all candidates, parties and outside groups, according to NBC News.

Washington’s state Supreme Court will review a case on the constitutionality of Seattle’s voucher program on May 14. Represented by the libertarian Pacific Legal Foundation, two property-owners are arguing their First Amendment rights were violated by forcing them to support candidates they didn’t like through their taxpayer dollars, according to the Seattle Times.

A lower court agreed with proponents that it was justified by its effort to increase democratic participation, but the state Court of Appeals subsequently punted the case to Washington’s Supreme Court.

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