A key component of the proposed For the People Act – the controversial H.R. 1 bill – funnels millions of taxpayer dollars into the campaign coffers of some of the most polarizing politicians on either side of the aisle, forcing Americans to financially foot campaign bills “whether they want to or not,” opponents warn.
Promoted by Democrats as a way to weaken the influence of Political Action Committees and wealthy corporations in the federal election process, the massive 800-page H.R.-1 bill includes a provision to create a public financing system that provides a 6-to-1 taxpayer-funded match for campaign donations valued at $200 or less.
That means a $200 donation to a candidate could actually yield them an additional $1,200 from the government. The match money would come from a 4.75% surcharge on fines and penalties paid by businesses or corporate officers to a proposed “Freedom From Influence Fund.”
A report released by the Congressional Budget Office estimates the new proceeds would amount to about $3.2 billion over 10 years.
According to a recent analysis of campaign finance reports, the Institute for Free Speech found that some of the most vocal House members – such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. – would have already earned the maximum taxpayer subsidy proposed by the bill.
“New FEC reports reveal that H.R. 1’s matching funds program would function as a subsidy for Congress’ most powerful, famous, and notorious members,” IFS president David Keating said. “If H.R. 1 becomes law, candidates who dominate the media will dominate fundraising. Americans will be forced to pay billions of dollars to support them, whether they want to or not.”
According to the nonprofit’s analysis, five current members of Congress would have received enough small-dollar donations in the first quarter to trigger the maximum allowable subsidy of about $6.7 million: Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.; Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.; Adam Schiff, D-Calif; Ocasio-Cortez; and Pelosi.
The cap is determined based on a formula that averages the total money spent by the 20 most expensive winning House campaigns in the previous cycle, rounded to the nearest $100,000. Whatever half of that dollar figure amounts to becomes the cap.
Keating said that, on top of the calculated cap, candidates can receive a $500,000 bonus as the election date nears. There is no set cap on how much the subsidy could total from one election cycle to the next, which means as more small donations come in, the match can increase.
“It’s possible when you’re talking about the top 20 races that that [subsidy] number keeps going up,” he said.
Under the proposed system, Keating said politicians who “wind up getting on TV and [who] go viral on social media” would end up raising more money.
“A lot of politicians now think their job is to get on TV and not to solve the country’s problems,” he said. “It would be the most visible, polarizing candidates raising a lot of money under this system.”
Bradley Smith, founder and chairman of IFS, said the candidates who are typically the “least representative” of their political party will likely see the largest financial boost from this program.
He also pointed out that this is “not a neutral partisan measure” because Democrats have historically been better at raising small dollar donations than Republicans.
“One can’t help but note that this will have a big partisan impact,” he said.
Because the money technically originates from corporate dollars, Democrats contend the windfall for candidates isn’t coming directly from taxpayers.
But Republicans argue that, since the money funding the match comes from fines, penalties, and government obligations that could go toward other programs with more benefits for taxpayers, the American people will still end up bearing the brunt of the cost.
If the bill becomes law, the program wouldn’t begin until the 2028 election cycle and would require candidates to opt in if they want to participate.
Ahead of last month’s House vote on the bill, Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., tweeted that the bill “will take your money and give it to politicians so they can run TV ads.”
Ironically, his warning included an ad he put out in 2019 that cautioned voters about the match program proposed in H.R. 1. Democrats passed a nearly identical bill in March 2019, but the proposal was blocked at the time by the Republican-controlled Senate. Democrats now control both chambers.
"This week, Democrats will pass HR 1. They're calling it the 'For the People Act,' but really it's for my campaign consultants," a man in the ad says. "HR 1 is going to take your hard-earned tax dollars and millions more, and send them to my campaign so I can put ads on TV."
Other House Republicans have also blasted the match program.
Last month, Fox News reported that Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas, said the legislation would "fully cement the swamp."
"I'm particularly disturbed by the fact that, if this bill passes, taxpayer dollars will be directly funneled to congressional candidates and campaigns," Pfluger said. "The folks in my district ... absolutely do not approve of their hard-earned dollars paying for TV attack ads of any candidate, much less candidates they don't support."
During a recent appearance on Newsmax TV’s “American Agenda,” Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., also ripped the match program. She said it’s ludicrous that a politician such as Ocasio-Cortez would be rewarded with taxpayer dollars for posting "some explosive video, name-calling, calling everybody a racist."
"[Say Ocasio-Cortez] raises a million dollars [from that video]. Guess what? We’re on the hook for the other $6 million,” Cammack said. “That’s right. She will raise $6 million because of the 6-to-1 match because the majority of her donations are small-dollar donations.”
Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., told Newsmax TV’s “Spicer & Co” that the program just rewards campaigns using funds from “corporate bad actors.”
“Democrats are going to allow the first corporate funding of congressional campaigns since 1907,” he said. “They’re going to take those corporate dollars, launder them in what they call the Freedom from Influence Fund and then turn them into taxpayer dollars and allow every member of Congress to then … get up to $7.2 million added into their own campaign accounts.”
While Democrats claim the bill curbs the influence of special interest groups, Keating believes the program would do just the opposite and “turbocharge” such efforts.
If the program were ever deployed, he expects special interest groups to canvass door-to-door more frequently in order to raise money for candidates they back.
“The idea that this is going to cut the influence of special interests is ridiculous,” Keating said.
He also said he fears that the tax-financed system could wind up subsidizing hate speech because the money would have to be provided to all eligible candidates – regardless of their viewpoints.
“The kind of speech the sponsors appear to detest most would get huge subsidies,” Keating said.
He noted a candidate like David Duke, who was infamously the Grand Wizard of the KKK, would have been “more than happy to spread his message” with taxpayer subsidized funds.
In an example from a similar program already enacted in New York City, a 2018 candidate for local office who repeatedly railed against “greedy Jewish landlords” received matching funds from a match-type program that allowed him to circulate anti-Semitic campaign literature.
Keating said the matching program proposed in H.R. 1 is largely modeled after New York City’s. He questions whether the New York City model is something the government wants to replicate for the entire country.
“I think most people will say ‘no,’” Keating said. “There’s been no indication it’s been a success in New York.”
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