(Opinion) Big money steals our voice in government
Democracy Dollars could help voters directly support their chosen candidates
The DNC notwithstanding, New Hampshire will continue to lead the country in picking our presidents. On Feb. 14, the New Hampshire House can lead in another way: by passing HB 324 to establish “voter-owned elections” for the Governor and Executive Council. This lets candidates get their campaign cash from the voters, not from special interests. This reform can also bring Republicans and Democrats together and help dial back the partisan anger which threatens our democracy.
Seattle has successfully used a similar “Democracy Dollars” system since 2017. Ballot initiatives for this reform in city elections passed last November in Oakland, Calif., and Portland, Maine. Similar efforts are underway in Los Angeles, San Diego and other cities. In Minnesota, the majority party has introduced Democracy Dollars for state elections in both House and Senate.
Democracy Dollars offers a common-sense way to rein in big money. If only donors have a say in Concord and Washington, we’ll make ourselves the donors. Under this system, the government gives voters paper or online vouchers of campaign cash. Voters then give these vouchers to candidates they want to support.
I lead Save Democracy in America, fighting for a Democracy Dollars system for national elections. In over 35 interviews on media outlets ranging from progressive to conservative, I’ve gotten an enthusiastic reception. Americans of all political stripes can embrace this reform because we’re all sick of politicians ignoring us and a government which doesn’t serve us. Equally important, Democracy Dollars helps fulfill an ideal our country stands for: government of, by and for the people.
Democracy Dollars can help unite us, because campaign cash worsens polarization. Moneyed interests have often divided us to stay on top — pitting Americans against each other by race, religion, party and other differences. Much partisan anger may also be misdirected frustration with our broken system. Not understanding that big money, more than anything else, stole our voice in government, Republicans and Democrats turn their anger on each other. By directly empowering voters and cutting big donors down to size, Democracy Dollars can strike at a source of our anger.
Finally, Democracy Dollars can bring us together, because government is now so dysfunctional that even the big donors can’t get what they need. Corporate America has lost what businesses in every country most need from politics: predictability and stability.
The donors who give the money and the candidates who take it are not evil people; they’re doing what they have to do under the rules of a broken system. We cannot emphasize this strongly enough: Our fellow Americans are not the enemy. The money is the enemy, and since it has become the enemy of us all, surely we can join forces to defeat it.
Individual freedom, equality of opportunity, government by the people — these ideals, not race, creed or party — make us Americans. Our ideals form common ground where we can come together. Here we can regain the sense of shared purpose and shared destiny that we’ll need in order to meet our country’s many challenges.
As a purple state where self-government and freedom find deep emotional resonance, New Hampshire is well suited to lead the country in empowering voters and restoring a healthy, civil partisan competition. By passing HB 324, the New Hampshire House can take the first step in providing this leadership. If my arguments make sense to you, please call or email your representative and tell them you support voter-owned elections.
Dan McMillan, founder of Save Democracy in America, a nonprofit, non-partisan organization, holds a Ph.D. in German history from Columbia University and a law degree from Fordham University. In 2014, he published the acclaimed book “How Could This Happen: Explaining the Holocaust” (Basic Books).