Testimony in Support of HB5531 “Small Donor Democracy Matching System for Fair Elections Act”

Cook County Clerk David Orr
May 1, 2018
Statement from the Clerk

Thank you for considering this important bill today.

I’m Cook County Clerk David Orr. Over the last three decades, I’ve worked with many legislators like yourselves to reform the voter registration process, enact Early Voting and consolidate municipal elections. Some of these saved money, while others—like offering Early Voting—cost money. But we did it anyway because it was worth improving access to voting and strengthening our democracy. Today, we are also seeing increased spending on election security because we all know—Democrats and Republicans—how important it is to protect the integrity of our elections.

This small donor matching program should be seen in a similar light to these other critical investments in our democracy. I’m not going to go into detail on its benefits – others here today will be speaking about the success of small donor programs in New York and other parts of the country.

As Clerk, I’ve long supported small donor matching because it is obvious to me that when elected officials court the support of average voters, rather than special interests and corporations, we get better public policy. Small donor matching is one important way to put voters, rather than big donors, at the center of a campaign’s efforts, which leads to better public policy.

Look, I’m under no illusion that the influence of big money or backroom deals will disappear overnight. You can’t have a representative government when money drowns out ordinary voices. Our democracy is in danger. Why? Because both parties too often pick their nominees not due to their character or their experience, but due to their checkbook.

As we know, the campaign cycle is too long. Lesser funded candidates are unable to compete and the airwaves are flooded with deceitful ads that discourage Americans from voting. Much of this, in my view, is caused because of the central role big money now plays in politics. I could give you many examples, but I’ll just give you one. In 2014, 51% of all contributions in Illinois came from $1,000,000+ donors. Within the Republican Party, over 50% of political contributions came from 3 individuals. I’m not against rich people or rich candidates. What I am against is a system that allows the super-rich to control the playing field.

What this bill does is it encourages competition and encourages candidates to listen to the average person, not just the very wealthy. Politics is the art of managing conflict. If we had time, we could spell out how public policy, especially in recent years, too often ignores the needs of the people (i.e. healthcare, the environment or student loans). In a representative democracy, it is the government’s role to balance the competing interests and enact policy that is in the public interest.

That’s why we need to fight on all fronts, including overturning Citizens United. But right now we can do something in Illinois. That’s why I’m supporting similar efforts to enact small donor match in the City of Chicago, and working with Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia to bring the program to Cook County. This program will lead to better public policy and greater accountability. The cost of this program will easily pay for itself and much more when we see more elected officials influenced by their constituents than by special interests and big donors. It’s time for voters, rather than money, to be the lifeblood of politics.

I urge you to support this important legislation.


David Orr
Cook County Clerk