My Clean Elections Plan to get money out of politics

Every American’s voice should be as loud as the Koch Brothers’

Kirsten Gillibrand
Published in
5 min readMay 1, 2019


Show me a supposedly “unfixable” problem in Washington, and I’ll show you the political corruption standing in the way. That’s why I rolled out my Clean Elections Plan — bold reform to attack the corrupting influence of money at its core.

When the NRA wants to prevent gun reform, they funnel money into the campaigns of candidates nationwide to make sure they don’t vote for common sense gun reform. Insurance companies do the same to block Medicare for All and prevent us from guaranteeing health care as a right, not a privilege. The story is the same with polluters. And drug companies. And oil companies. The list goes on.

From 2008 to 2018, over $30 billion was spent on federal elections, and as of 2018, 11 individuals were responsible for $1 billion out of the $5 billion collected by Super PACs. That’s unacceptable.

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.

My Clean Elections Plan

My Clean Elections Plan is a critical structural change that gets big money and special interests out of politics, and ensures that elected officials in Washington are beholden only to the people who sent them there.

How it works

  1. Every eligible voter can opt-in to receive “Democracy Dollars.”
  2. Participants receive $200 worth of Democracy Dollars to assign to their preferred candidates in each federal race.
  3. Federal candidates can opt-in to receive Democracy Dollars if they meet the qualifying threshold and agree to cap all individual cash donations to $200.

Candidates who don’t opt-in can receive bigger cash donations from individuals, but can’t receive Democracy Dollars — significantly limiting the number of people who can support their campaigns.

How we pay for it

I would eliminate the loophole that makes taxpayers subsidize excessively high CEO compensation: CEOs making 25 times the median salary of their employees or more than $1 million, whichever is less. That change would raise over $60 billion in ten years.

Why this matters

My plan will:

  • Put the power of funding federal campaigns into the hands of working Americans: For too long, small groups of wealthy donors have had outsized influence over our government. These groups also tend to be disproportionately white and male. My plan would flip the equation — 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.
  • Hold candidates accountable to people, not special interests: Under my Clean Elections plan, candidates for president, U.S. Senate, and/or the House of Representatives will have to make a choice at the outset of their race: Will their campaign be powered by a handful of wealthy elites, or by the people? By opting in to receive Democracy Dollars, candidates agree to cap all individual donations at $200 — either in Democracy Dollars or in cash. The multiplier effect of the program means candidates could raise more in small donations from many people than they could in larger donations from far fewer people. That incentivizes them to opt-in, further empowering the eligible voters who participate.
  • Empower more Americans, especially young people, women, and people of color: Big money in politics has bred a culture where special interests and wealthy megadonors — who are overwhelmingly white, male and older — have all the influence over our elections. By leveling the playing field of who’s powering federal campaigns, my plan amplifies the voices of Americans who haven’t been heard for too long — young people, women, and people of color.
  • Establish strong anti-fraud safeguards: Strong anti-fraud and anti-corruption measures, including criminal penalties, would ensure that funds are allocated and donated accordingly, and candidates are held to the highest standards for use of “Democracy Dollars.”

Now, you may be asking: How do we know if this plan will work? The answer is, it already has. Seattle, WA has already established a successful model that is empowering voters and breaking money’s hold on their city elections.

Seattle’s Clean Elections Program

My federal plan is modeled in part on a successful program currently being used in Seattle. It’s the first U.S. jurisdiction to run a plan like this.

As a result of this new program in Seattle:

Candidates in races eligible for “Democracy Dollars” relied far less on big money and were less beholden to special interests.

  • Before the program began, in the 2013 elections for Seattle City Council and City Attorney, small donations (under $250) accounted for just 48% of the money donated to candidates.
  • In 2017, as a result of this program, 87% of the support came from small donations of $250 or less and “Democracy Dollars.”

Beyond shifting the influence into the hands of small-dollar donors, the Seattle “Democracy Dollar” program has had real impact on overall participation in elections.

  • At least 25,000 Seattle residents participated as campaign donors in the 2017 election cycle, three times the participation of the roughly 8,200 residents who donated in 2013.
  • An estimated 84% of this election cycle’s Seattle donors were new donors — about 20,900 individuals who had not contributed to city candidates in the 2015 or 2013 cycles. Among these new donors, 71% were “Democracy Dollar” donors.
  • “Democracy Dollar” donors better reflected Seattle’s population including young people, women, people of color, and less affluent residents.

How you can help

Changing the way we fund elections and attacking political corruption is the only way to accomplish any of our boldest, most progressive policies and truly help working families. The Green New Deal, Medicare for All, lowering prescription drug prices, common sense gun reform — accomplishing any of this depends on weakening the corrosive effect of money in politics.

Join me in calling for clean elections in this country to return power to the people and take it out of the hands of wealthy special interests. Click here to add your name to my petition.



Kirsten Gillibrand

Mom to Theo, Henry and dog Maple. Wife to Jonathan. U.S. Senator from New York. She/her.