Enter campaign-finance reform. Traditionally, it is the Republican Party that has been most bitterly opposed to sweeping campaign-finance regulations or the public financing of campaigns. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a prolific fundraiser himself, has long been a champion of a more laissez-faire approach. At the same time, it has been egalitarians on the left who’ve objected most strenuously to the campaign-finance status quo. However, the rise of Silicon Valley’s left-of-center tech elite is scrambling the picture. In a survey of the region’s successful technology entrepreneurs, David Broockman, Gregory Ferenstein, and Neil Malhotra found a blend of high-tax egalitarianism and open-borders cosmopolitanism very much at odds with the Trump-era GOP, and many have been willing to donate accordingly. More ominously, Republicans are losing ground with upper-middle-income voters, who are, in the aggregate, no less important than millionaires and billionaires when it comes to financing campaigns. As an imperfect proxy, 58 percent of college-educated voters are aligned with the Democratic Party while only 36 percent either identify with or lean towards the GOP, and the Democratic advantage is even more pronounced among voters with postgraduate degrees. College-educated suburban women have been a bulwark of the anti-Trump “resistance,” and a promising source of campaign donations for Democratic candidates. If it isn’t already the case that populist and nationalist candidates on the right find themselves at a disadvantage with wealthy donors, it will be soon. And that is why they ought to be eager for change.
One of the more striking facts about campaign fundraising in America is that candidates for Congress, and for many other offices, tend to raise more funds from people residing outside of their districts than from the people they are seeking to represent. The average House candidate in 2016 raised only 38.9 percent of all campaign funds in-district. In 2018, that proportion has fallen to 33 percent, though of course we still have many more months of fundraising to go. If you believe as I do that donating to a campaign is one of many ways for individuals to express their political beliefs, there is nothing intrinsically wrong about this state of affairs. After all, only 50 or so congressional districts are truly competitive this year, and that is more than most cycles. It stands to reason that motivated donors would lend their support to any candidates who can help them achieve their political goals, including those who seek to represent districts elsewhere in the country. Yet this reliance on wealthy out-of-district donors can have a distorting effect. For one, it disadvantages candidates who are out-of-step with such donors.
How might we address this bias? Take the “Seattle idea,” which draws heavily on the scholarly work of the liberal legal academics Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres. In 2015, Seattle voters approved a measure that provided all registered voters with a $100 “democracy voucher” they could then use to support local candidates of their choice. Among other things, such a system greatly expands the universe of potential donors, which in turn could influence the agendas and sensibilities of aspiring elected officials. Representative Ro Khanna of California, an iconoclastic Democrat, has proposed a similar system for funding federal campaigns, in which voters would be issued $50 in “democracy dollars.” Under this system, candidates would be more than welcome to raise campaign funds exactly as they do today. But they would have the option to instead enroll in the democracy dollar system, in which case they would be barred from raising hard-money contributions.