Kirsten Gillibrand unveils plan to give voters up to $600 to donate to candidates

By Cara Korte

/ CBS News

Newt Gingrich on 2020 and his new book

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand says she wants to publicly fund elections by giving voters the option of receiving a stipend they would then donate to the federal candidates of their choice.

The New York Democrat and presidential candidate outlined the plan in a Medium post on Tuesday. It would allow eligible voters to receive up to $600 in "Democracy Dollars" they would then contribute to candidates for Congress or the presidency. Of that sum, $200 could be donated to House candidates, $200 to Senate candidates, and $200 to presidential candidates.

If candidates want to accept the money, however, they will have to agree to only accept individual contributions that are $200 or less.

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"The only answer is to get big, unaccountable money out of politics and put power back into the hands of the people in our elections," Gillibrand wrote in the Medium post.

The plan is Gillibrand's first major proposal of the 2020 campaign. The senator has struggled to gain traction with voters and donors in recent months, and tends to poll well behind other major Democratic candidates for the presidency.

Gillibrand claims the plan would limit the influence of big donors while "empowering more women and people of color to have a say in our government and set our course for a more equal and just future."

The proposal is modeled off a similar plan implemented in Seattle, where voters now receive a voucher they can contribute to candidates for citywide office.

Before the plan was enacted in Seattle, the Gillibrand campaign said in its press release, small donations of under $250 accounted for just 48 percent of contributions. Once the financing plan was in place, 87 percent of contributions were from small donations of $250 or less.

Gillibrand wrote that to pay for the program, she would close tax "loopholes" on top corporate executives. She said that change "would raise over $60 billion in ten years."

Darrell M. West, the Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution, praised Gillibrand's plan. "If enacted," he told CBS News, "it would elevate the amount of small money over large and make a big difference."

In a statement released by Gillibrand's campaign, the plan was also endorsed by End Citizens United, a group dedicated to promoting stricter campaign finance laws. The group called the plan a "bold, innovative proposal that will encourage more people to participate in our democracy and open up our political system to a more diverse set of candidates."

In her 2018 reelection campaign, Gillibrand rejected donations from corporate political action committees. Along with the majority of Democrats running for the presidency, Gillibrand is doing the same with her 2020 campaign.

First published on May 1, 2019 / 6:06 PM

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