I've written and spoken often about the fact that less than 1 percent of the population of Wisconsin pays for the election campaigning in state-level contests. It's the same story at the federal level.
If our state and nation would commit to policies aimed at significantly boosting that percentage it would be game changing. It could revolutionize politics. Elected officials could say no to wealthy special interests and still find a path to reelection by getting enough donations of modest size to replace the large contributions they would lose.
It wouldn't be necessary to get half of the population or a quarter or even a tenth to start donating to political candidates in order to have a landscape-altering impact. Five percent would do. Five percent of the population making contributions of no more than $100 could collectively match or exceed the total amount given by the tiny segment of society giving vastly larger sums. Five percent of the population making modest political donations could free elected representatives from the clutches of the wealthy special interests that now control everything.
The point can be illustrated using national campaign contribution figures for 2009 and 2010. In that two-year election cycle, one quarter of 1% of Americans made political donations large enough to itemize; that is, big enough for federal law to require that the donors be identified. Those donors – a hair shy of 819,000 people out of the nation's estimated population of nearly 311 million – doled out just under $1.6 billion. That's an average donation of almost $2,000. Roughly the same amount of money would be generated if 5 percent of the 311 million, or about 15.5 million people, made contributions averaging $100.
Creating incentives for small-dollar giving is central to the Democracy Campaign's Ending Wealthfare proposal. We could have just as well called it The 5% Solution. Or One Way Out of the Trap We're In.