O'Malley Follows Clinton with a Money-in-Politics Plan of His Own

O'Malley Follows Clinton with a Money-in-Politics Plan of His Own

Today, former Maryland governor and Democratic presidential contender Martin O’Malley unveiled his detailed plan to limit the rampant role of money in politics. Like Hillary Clinton, who released her plan a couple weeks ago, campaign-finance reform advocates widely applaud O’Malley’s ambitious plan. (It’s worth noting that Bernie Sanders has yet to release a specific money-in-politics plan beyond a short section on his website.)

“Martin O’Malley has provided a strong plan, focused both on reducing the barrier of big money and raising the voices of everyday people in politics,” says David Donnelly, president and CEO of Every Voice, a campaign-finance reform group.

His plan is largely modeled off what’s essentially a wish list for reform advocates that was released by a number of reform groups back in July, as well as off the Government by the People Act, a bill sponsored by Representative John Sarbanes that has earned widespread Democratic support.

Like virtually every candidate on the left, O’Malley vows to fight to overturn the Citizens United decision. At this point, this is boilerplate policy for any Democrat, but given the immense obstacles that must be overturned to do so, it’s kind of wishful thinking.

Reform advocates have increasingly been pushing to institute a public-financing system for federal elections. Sarbanes’s bill, which O’Malley pledges to pass if he’s elected, institutes a small-donor matching system for congressional elections. Every donation under $150 would be matched with public funds six-fold; if a candidate pledges to only take small donations, that ratio jumps to 9 to 1.

Again, calling for public funding and small-donor empowerment has become the party line. Clinton’s plan calls for a public system for all federal elections, though it doesn’t specify the matching ratio. That O’Malley failed to outline a fix for the broken presidential financing system is a major flaw for advocates. Clinton has also pledged to sign an executive order that requires government contractors to disclose their dark-money spending, another point that O’Malley did not address. Reformers have long been pushing Obama to sign such an order, but so far he has not.

However, there are still some aspects of campaign finance that O’Malley is strong on. Clinton’s plan was criticized for not addressing issues of enforcement, à la the broken FEC. O’Malley devotes an entire section detailing how he’d overhaul the commission. Most notably, he’d restructure it to be headed by one administrator, rather than a perpetually gridlocked board.

One thing worth noting is that he comes out in support of the bipartisan redistricting commissions that were recently upheld by the Supreme Court, which is somewhat ironic given that he oversaw one of the most gerrymandered district maps in the country while governor of Maryland.

Despite the apparent strengths and weaknesses of the candidates’ plans, it’s clear that money-in-politics is now a top-tier policy issue on the Democratic side.  Considering that Bernie, Hillary, and Martin have all gotten somewhat in the weeds on campaign-finance reform and political spending more generally, we can expect the issue to be a major focus in the first Democratic debate.

“Considering all major Democrats in the race have similar ideas for how we can fix our broken system,” says Every Voice’s Donnelly, “the upcoming debate would be the perfect opportunity for them to discuss what they’ll do to put everyday people at the center of our democracy.”