In his Feb. 9 Outlook essay, "Small donors, big changes," Richard Pildes argued there is a threat in campaign finance programs that match small donations with public funds. These reforms curb the growing dominance of wealthy interests since Citizens United. Yet Mr. Pildes seemed worried that such efforts would worsen the polarization of politics, claiming small donors prefer ideologically extreme candidates. Experience suggests otherwise.
Many of the small donations raised by platforms such as ActBlue in 2018 went to centrists to flip House seats. Long-standing matching programs haven’t accelerated polarization in Los Angeles or New York City. The once-robust matching system for presidential primaries produced wins for mainstream candidates such as Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and others.
One study Mr. Pildes cited in support of his thesis shows small donors are less polarized than others. The true risk today is dominance by megadonors, many ideological themselves. In 2016, 400 wealthy donors gave more money than 5 million small donors combined. Donations from individuals giving more than $1 million made up 31 percent of the funds for the entire election. Support from people who gave $200 or less accounted for 21 percent of the election funds. Small-donor public financing remains our best chance at effective reform.
Ian Vandewalker, New York
The writer is senior counsel for the Democracy Program of the Brennan Center for Justice.