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Public financing of campaigns now a presidential campaign issue

The most expansive proposal to reform the political system (so far) by a presidential aspirant comes from Kirsten Gillibrand, who says every voter should get $600 in taxpayer money to donate to candidates for federal office.

The New York senator, who's among more than a dozen candidates mired in single digits in early polling in the 2020 Democratic race, unveiled her "Democracy Dollars" plan Wednesday in an interview with NBC News.

Her rationale for such a bold approach to reducing the role of big money in politics: "If you want to accomplish anything that the American people want us to accomplish — whether it's health care as a right, better public schools, better economy — you have to take on the greed and corruption that determine everything in Washington."

Gillibrand would allow every voter to obtain 60 vouchers worth $10 each for every campaign cycle. Half would be good for donations in the primaries, half for the general election. They would be earmarked equally for House candidates, Senate contests and the presidential race. The congressional vouchers would have to be spent in the voter's home state.

For the candidates, the big hitch is that only those who agree to steer clear of big-dollar donations could get the public financing. The maximum donation they could accept under the Gillibrand plan would be $200 per campaign – a tiny fraction of the $5,600 maximum "hard dollar" limit today. (Fewer than 1 percent of voters write political checks for more than $200, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and those who do tend to be richer, whiter and more male than the overall population. So the Gillibrand plan would effectively spread the power of individual voters' political money across all demographic groups.)

The campaign didn't provide a cost estimate but did provide a funding mechanism: limiting the business deduction for executive compensation, which it estimates would raise $60 billion over a decade. Subsidizing political giving and raising corporate taxes are sure to meet fierce resistance from Republicans in Congress if such a bill is ever pushed from the White House.

The only similar plan now is in Seattle, where local voters decided by referendum that each of them should get a $25 voucher to spend on municipal races. The House-passed political overhaul bill, HR 1, would create a pilot program with vouchers also worth $25. But it's a dead letter in the GOP Senate despite co-sponsorships from every Democratic senator – even those who aren't running for president. That puts most of the field in favor of some public financing. (Joe Biden has backed versions of the idea since he was a junior senator in the 1970s.)

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We can and must embrace our diversity as the operating system of our nation, write the leaders of the Bridge Alliance.

Diverse people must be in every room where decisions are made

Molineaux and Nevins are co-founders of the Bridge Alliance, a coalition of 100 democracy strengthening organizations. (Disclosure: The Bridge Alliance Education Fund is a funder of The Fulcrum.)

As we look to history, it has always been the mystics and scientists, innovators and outliers who saw the future most clearly and acted to push — or call — society forward, to awaken from our slumber of the way things are and envision a better future. The stories of their personal transformation inspire us to be better individually and collectively. With this inspiration, we can and must transform our nation into a more perfect union.

As co-founders of the Bridge Alliance, we are inspired and challenged by the problems facing our country. Our 100 member organizations work daily to protect the ideals of our American Dream so we can create healthy self-governance that has never fully existed before. Our members work to harness the tension of our differences as we enact our inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, balancing individual and community needs.

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The Federal Voting Assistance Program assists military members who need to vote via absentee ballot. A spokeswoman for the Defense Department said there would be "minimal disruptions" if the United States pulls out of the international postage agency.

Costs to mail ballots may skyrocket for civilians, military living overseas

Election officials are growing increasingly concerned that the Trump administration's trade war with China could make it more difficult and expensive for overseas voters — including those in the military — to cast ballots in the 2019 and 2020 local, state and federal elections.

The issue is the pending withdrawal in October by the U.S. from the Universal Postal Union, a group of 192 nations that has governed international postal service and rates for 145 years.

Last October, the U.S. gave the required one-year notice stating it would leave the UPU unless changes were made to the discounted fees that China pays for shipping small packages to the United States. The subsidized fees — established years ago to help poor, developing countries — place American businesses at a disadvantage and don't cover costs incurred by the U.S. Postal Service.

With the U.S.-imposed deadline for withdrawal or new rates fast approaching, states officials are running out of time to prepare for overseas mail-in voting.

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