Dylan Matthews writes in the Washington Post that Maryland Democrat John Sarbanes wants to implement a voucher system to fund Congressional elections to help level the playing field and allow more Americans to fund campaigns.
The proposal has three components. The first is a $50 refundable tax credit for anyone who makes a donation to a Congressional campaign. The second is a system of public matching funds that will give $5 for every $1 of private donations. In order to get those funds, candidates would have to reject PAC money.
The third element is the most controversial. It establishes a fund to support candidates who are being targeted by super PACs and other outside groups.
The fund to combat super PACs would probably be the trickiest part of the bill to defend in court. Last year the Supreme Court ruled in McComish v. Bennett that a provision of Arizona's clean elections law that provided additional matching funds to candidates facing self-funding opponents was unconstitutional. The rationale was that self-funders have a free speech right to spend their own money to promote their political beliefs, and that the matching funds "chilled" such speech.
Asked whether the super-PAC fund could run into similar trouble, Sarbanes conceded that this was a concern, but said he is trying to craft the bill to avoid the features that got Arizona's law in trouble. Rather than kicking in if a particular super PAC is targeting a particular candidate, it would kick in if all net independent expenditures exceeded a certain amount such that "the decibel level of speech has been raised so high that it's beginning to crowd out the voice and the speech opportunity of the candidates in that race." The goal is to get "get them back into the speech ballgame," not to penalize super PACs for their speech. Super PACs would even be eligible for public funds if they met the same requirements of candidates, though "of course as a practical matter they won't do that since those include things like absolute total disclosure, limiting donations you receive to a certain amount, things that legitimate candidates would be abiding by easily but a super PAC is not going to do."