All across the country, the American people are rising up in opposition to the outsized role that money plays in American politics. So, why is the Delaware House of Representatives considering a bill that would increase the amount of money candidates can receive from campaign donors by 66 percent?
HS 1 (which replaces HB 128) would increase the contribution limit for statewide elections from $1,200 to $2,000; non-statewide races would see the limit raised from $600 to $1,000. State House of Representatives candidates could collect up to $5,000 from political parties, rather than $3,000, a change that would put them on par with State Senate candidates, whose districts cover twice the territory. Moreover, the amount of money parties pay for postage on political mailers would no longer count against campaign limits.
The bill also increases the amount a person can donate to a political party by 50 percent, raising the limit from $20,000 to $30,000.
Around 90 percent of Americans say they want campaign spending limits and lower contribution limits, and Common Cause Delaware strongly agrees with them. We need to get money out of politics, not augment its role.
Unfortunately, Delaware suffers from a troubling “pay to play” political culture that gives the wealthy and the well-connected too much influence. In 2013, former state Chief Justice E. Norman Veasey released a well-documented report that laid out a campaign-finance-reform agenda. As Veasey argued during a recent talk in Lewes, we need to eliminate the “pernicious, soft-corruption, pay-to-play culture should not be thought of as the Delaware Way, even if it has been a common practice.” Instead, he said, we need to bolster “The real ‘Delaware way’ means a civilized, bipartisan approach to finding solutions to the state’s business and political problems.”
The “Veasey Report” helped spur passage of more than a dozen laws during the 2014 legislative session. But to complete the work of reform, we need to ban all gifts from lobbyists to legislators, prohibit contributions from entities such as limited liability corporations (LLCs), require political committees to report the occupation and employer of every donor (as is already required at the federal level), and require “meaningful filing and oversight fees” of lobbyists for use by the Public Integrity Commission.
To be clear, the “Veasey Report” did not recommend increasing contribution limits, as some have claimed. “We do not suggest,” the report reads, “that contribution limits should be raised.” While the report mentioned in passing that the General Assembly “might” consider increasing limits as a “counterbalancing measure” to other reforms, higher limits were not part of the report’s recommendations. And because the campaign-finance-reform agenda remains incomplete, there’s no need for a counterbalance at this point.
The relatively low amount of money Delawareans are allowed to donate to campaigns works to curtail the ability of wealthy elites to buy elections.
How much influence, after all, can $600 buy? Low limits force candidates to appeal to a wide array of voters and not attend only to the moneyed few, and that is a good thing for democracy in Delaware.
This is no time to increase contribution limits, especially by 66 percent. That would only feed public cynicism and further weaken trust in government.
Editor’s note: Claire Snyder-Hall is a program director and lobbyist for Common Cause Delaware, whose slogan is “Holding Power Accountable.”
The Federal Election Campaign Act requires that “treasurers of political committees exercise best efforts to obtain, maintain and report the complete identification of each contributor whose contributions aggregate more than $200 per calendar year.” They are neither required to do so in the case of contributors whose contributions aggregate to less than, or exactly equal to, $200 per calendar year; nor are they required to use extraordinary means to obtain, maintain and report such identifications of contributors who decline to provide the information, nor are they required to decline or refund the contributions in such cases.