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New Report: Long-term Vision on Money in Politics Requires ‘Political Opportunity’ Framework

NEW YORK - Reforming the flow of money into politics and revitalizing democracy requires a new framework: a focus on enhancing political opportunity, concludes a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and New America. Such a principle would both engage the public and lead to the creation of policy proposals that are both effective and achievable.

The report will be released at an event today at New America’s Washington offices featuring a keynote from U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland, lead sponsor of the Government By the People Act, followed by a panel discussion including Ann M. Ravel, chair of the Federal Election Commission. Click here for information about the event.

“The concept of political opportunity can provide not only a legal framework for a new generation of policy reforms, but a set of approaches that are more likely to be effective at balancing the voice of the well-off and breaking the cycle of cumulative inequality,” wrote author Mark Schmitt, director of the program on political reform at New America. “Political opportunity-based reforms hold the promise of restoring fluidity and creativity to the political process, as candidates compete on new ideas and new axes of conflict and compromise emerge, breaking the stifling duality of the current system.”

“The public has rightly become cynical about both the rising tide of money in politics, and the ability to do much about it. We need new ideas,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. “In his report, Mark Schmitt provides a much-needed re-examination of the system and its critics, along with a fresh framework for thinking and talking about reform.”

The report proposes moving beyond the narrow goal of reducing political corruption and instead setting the objective of expanding the opportunity for people to run for office, for citizens to participate as voters, donors, and advocates, and for new ideas to be heard. Such reforms would include proposals such as the expansion of New York City’s small donor public financing system, and the creation of tax credits or vouchers for contributions. Technological advances that lower the barriers to entry into campaigns and new ways to communicate with voters at lower cost could reduce the incentives for candidates to create super PACs or enlist outside spending. Finally, changes to voting structures, such ranked choice voting, would reduce the influence of money and the pressure to raise it.

Click here to read the full report, Political Opportunity: A New Framework for Democratic Reform.

Click here to read more about the Brennan Center’s work on money in politics.


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The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a non-partisan public policy and law institute that focuses on fundamental issues of democracy and justice. Our work ranges from voting rights to redistricting reform, from access to the courts to presidential power in the fight against terrorism.

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