To fix our broken democracy,
we need to change the underlying incentives.
An overwhelming majority of Americans agree that money in politics is a problem. But how do we fix it? At CounterPAC, we believe the answer lies in changing incentive structures.
Like any other rational actors, politicians make decisions based on what's in their self-interest - in this case, whatever helps them get elected to office. Because politicians rely on campaign money to reach and persuade voters, all other things being equal, they aren't going to drive the change we need of their own accord.
Theoretically, voters could incentivize politicians to take action on this issue by holding them accountable at the ballot box. Problematically, however, 91% of Americans currently believe it's impossible to achieve the reform we need. Without a public expectation of reform, there can be no public accountability for politicians who fail to take action - and thus no incentive for them to do so.
The result is a vicious cycle: money's corruption of our elections begets public cynicism; accountability mechanisms fail because the public is cynical rather than engaged; and without anything to keep corruption in check, it grows worse.
- In 2016, it is estimated that spending on election campaigns will approach $10 billion.
- 96% of Americans believe that money in politics is a problem.
- In the last 5 years, dozens of bills have been introduced in Congress to address the problem of money in politics. None of them have passed.
- 91% of Americans believe that it is impossible to achieve fundamental reform of how election campaigns are funded.
By generating working examples of reform, we can strengthen public demand for change.
If we want to change the role that money plays in American elections, we need to break this cycle. In practice, this means mounting successful interventions that visibly improve electoral accountability. If our problem is that widespread corruption causes cynicism and erodes accountability mechanisms, then we need to create models of reform solutions at work to restore public hope and inspire engagement.
For this reason, it is critical that we focus on campaigns that
- we can win; and
- precipitate clear, positive outcomes
in the near term.
We must then leverage these opportunities to amplify the message that reform is both possible and worth fighting for.
We see great potential for well-structured pledge agreements between candidates in high-profile races to serve as the kind of attainable, yet effective, models of reform that we need to advance a solutions-oriented conversation and combat public cynicism.
The goal of CounterPAC's advocacy is to create conditions that lead to the execution of pledge agreements within the context of high-profile races, making the races more accountable to the public in clearly visible ways.Simple, common sense agreements
can serve as powerful models of reform.
During the 2012 Massachusetts Senate race, Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown signed a mutual pledge in which they agreed to reject unlimited spending by super PACs and other outside groups. They promised that if either of them received support from an outside group, the candidate benefiting from the expenditure would take a proportional amount of money out of their own campaign account and let their opponent donate it to charity.
With the stroke of a pen, this pledge agreement successfully disincentivized spending activity by outside groups and measurably improved the accountability of the race. For example:
- Outside spending was reduced by 93%;
- No TV attack ads were run by outside groups;
- Negative advertising overall was cut in half;
- Small-dollar donations exceeded outside spending 3:1.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Who are you?
- We are a group of concerned citizens who believe that unlimited dark money is corrupting our political system. We have backgrounds varying from tech entrepreneurs to political advisors. See the People page for a complete list.
- Why would any politician take the CounterPAC pledge?
- First and foremost, because most of them understand that getting unlimited outside spending and secret money out of elections is good for America. But also, politicians want to run their own campaigns. Like anyone, they would prefer to tell their own story rather than have it told for them. But, like an arms race, they are unlikely to eliminate dark money unilaterally; they are much more willing to disarm if the other side disarms as well. Hence the bilateral nature of the pledge.
- What makes you think this will work?
- Because it already has. The Massachusetts Senate race in 2012 used a version of the pledge called “The People's Pledge” that went even further than just requiring disclosure of donors and it worked. For details, see Common Cause’s paper: A Plea for the Pledge
- Where will you be active during 2016?
- You can follow CounterPAC's activity, including any ads that we run, on Our Work page.
- What did you accomplish in 2014?
- In three of the most competitive races in the congressional midterm (AK-Sen, WV-03, CO-06), we brought the issue of "dark," untraceable money to the forefront of the debate, advancing a solutions-oriented conversation and forcing candidates to respond. For more click on Our Work page.
- Why the focus on untraceable “dark” money in 2014?
- We needed to start with something almost everyone supports. From Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on the left to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas on the right, leaders on both sides of the aisle have called for an end to secret campaign spending. By starting with a common-sense agreement we made a real impact in races in 2014 without waiting for action by Congress or anyone else.
- Who are your funders?
- CounterPAC is generously funded by individual citizens committed to restoring integrity to our elections. See the Donors page for a full list.
Get more information about how money actually affects democracy in light of our complex political system.