Eighteen groups promoting democracy reform sent a letter Tuesday to Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, asking for a presidential debate focused on the candidates' democracy reform plans.
"Whether it comes to addressing our climate crisis, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, ending gun violence, or any other issue Democratic candidates have been talking about on the campaign trail, the role of a healthy democracy in achieving those ends is undeniable," the letter states.
The groups who signed the letter are: Brennan Center for Justice, The Center for Popular Democracy, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America, Democracy 21, The Democratic Coalition, End Citizens United, Equal Citizens, Indivisible, New American Leaders, New American Leaders Action Fund, New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, People for the American Way, Progressive Turnout Project, Protect Democracy, Public Citizen, Voices for Progress and Wolf-PAC.
Public financing of federal campaigns has become a talking point for Democratic presidential candidates, most of whom have decried the corrupting influence of outside money in politics.
Tax returns released by several of the highest-profile candidates, however, reveal a disconnect between their speeches and their actions.
Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Beto O'Rourke have co-sponsored legislation in Congress to create or significantly expand public financing of congressional and presidential elections. But on the annual income tax returns they've made public, none has checked the box for participating in the only current federal public finance system — the largely moribund Presidential Election Campaign Fund.
And Bernie Sanders, the most prominent crusader for public financing, leaves the box unchecked in most years.
Those decisions have created a small but symbolic gap between words and deeds that political opponents love to pounce on. These candidates could also be exposing themselves to criticism they are being hypocritical, or at least insincere, on one of the most ambitious democracy reform ideas being deliberated in the 2020 presidential campaign.
In addition, none of the Democrats has asked to take money from the fund. To qualify for public money, presidential candidates must agree not to accept private contributions and cap their spending in each state. This puts modern-day candidates at a disadvantage in an era of skyrocketing campaign costs.
Democracy 21 and the Democracy 21 Education Fund work to strengthen the integrity and fairness of our democracy and to increase the role of citizens in our political process. The organization brings unique policy and litigation experience and expertise to campaign finance and democracy issues, and to related government integrity, transparency and accountability issues. Since we began in 1997, the organization has played a leading national role in the efforts to address the nation's campaign finance problems through public education, litigation, and other efforts. D21 President Fred Wertheimer has played a key role in every major campaign finance reform and ethics battle in Congress since the post-Watergate reforms in the 1970s and has participated as a lawyer in every major Supreme Court campaign finance case during this period. Democracy 21 manages a coalition of reform groups that meet regularly to develop approaches and strategies for promoting democracy reforms.