Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) said he is introducing a bill Friday that would create a $50 tax credit for campaign donations and use taxpayer money to match contributions of $100 or less by five-to-one. If the candidate receiving the donation agrees to forswear all contributions over $100, their small contributions will be matched 10-to-one.
"We designed this proposal in a way that we think will multiply the power of the average small donor," Sarbanes said. "It’s really motivated by looking out across the political terrain and seeing the influence that these big money special interests are having over our political campaigns."
Another provision creates a "people's fund" that Sarbanes said would be used to fund candidates who are facing heavy spending by interest groups.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) have a similar small-donor match proposal to be introduced next week that would include the presidential campaigns. The measure also tightens regulations on how closely candidates can work with interest groups, including so-called super PACs, which are allowed to accept donations of any size.
"It would put out of business the most virulent super PACs, which are the ones being used to eviscerate the campaign contribution limits," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, which is pushing for the Van Hollen-Price bill.
Sarbanes said his measure has 30 co-sponsors but no Republicans have signed on so far. Neither proposal is likely to get much traction in the Republican-led House.
Democrats tried to pass legislation ahead of the 2010 elections to further disclosure of campaign spending but didn't have the votes to get past a Republican procedural hurdle in the Senate.
"The politics of the moment right now, as you can imagine, are making it difficult to get anything done in a bipartisan fashion," Sarbanes said.