2020 Presidential Candidate Series — Sen. Gillibrand

Update 369 — 2020 Presidential Cand. Series;
Economic Agenda of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

This month has featured three economic policy surprises — a sudden budget agreement between the president and Speaker Pelosi, a monetary course reversal by the Fed, and a drop in GDP growth from 3.1 the first quarter of 2019 to 2.1 in the second quarter. All of these will be the subject of next week’s updates.

Today, we have a look at presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s domestic economic policy and political reform plan. The latter is perhaps the most comprehensive and forward-reaching of the Senator’s proposals, indeed of any campaign finance reform proposal this cycle, and thus gets our most attention below.

Good weekends, all.




U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2006 after working in private law. She had served as special counsel to Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo in the last year of the Clinton Administration. In 2009, New York Governor David Paterson appointed Gillibrand to fill the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. Gillibrand won a special election in 2010 and was re-elected in 2012 and 2018, winning by the largest margin in the history of statewide elections for Senate in New York.

Sen. Gillibrand has championed middle class families and has introduced a slew of legislation aimed at strengthening the position of workers and ending gender disparities across the economy. As a presidential candidate, Gillibrand has made reforming the campaign finance system a central issue, as a precursor to any other type of reform. Her signature proposal, the Clean Elections Act, is a multi-faceted approach to reducing special interests and encouraging increased participation in the elections process for all Americans.

Clean Elections

Sen. Gillibrand’s signature proposal seeks to redress the imbalance between big money special interests and everyday Americans who feel like they do not have a voice. According to OpenSecrets, 0.47 percent of the US population accounted for 71 percent of all contributions to political candidates, parties, or PACs during the 2018 election cycle.

Under Gillibrand’s plan, eligible voters could opt-in to her “Democracy Dollars” program and register for vouchers provided by the Federal Elections Commission. Voters who opt-in would receive a $200 voucher for each federal contest: House, Senate, and presidential. Participants could use their $200 voucher to donate $100 in the primary and $100 in the general.

Voters will only be able to contribute to candidates in their state — including House candidates outside their district but within their state. In order to accept the public money, candidates would have to restrict themselves to accepting cash donations of $200 or less.

The plan is paid for by fully closing a loophole that allows corporations to deduct “performance-based” executive pay under $1 million, or 25 times the median salary, from their taxable income. Closing this loophole would raise $60 billion over ten years and would turn what is now a corporate subsidy into a democracy dividend. At a minimum, the plan would be fully funded.

Sen. Gillibrand’s plan is modeled on an existing voucher program in Seattle that has been up and running since 2015. Under the Seattle Democracy Vouchers program, voters who opt-in receive $100 to spend in $25 increments for council district positions. Small donations tripled from 2013 to 2017 and 84 percent of democracy voucher donations during the 2017 cycle came from people who had never previously given to a campaign.

Honorable Mentions

FAMILY Act – Sen. Gillibrand has introduced legislation establishing a national paid family and medical leave in every Congress since 2013. Her current bill, the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, S. 463, modeled on successful state programs, provides 12 weeks of paid time off for family leave. Workers on leave would receive upward of 66 percent of their wages ensuring that the benefit is more meaningful for low- and middle-income earners. It would be funded through a small employee and employer tax equivalent to 0.2 percent on wages earned by employees and 0.2 percent on wages paid by employers, or 0.4 percent on self-employment income.

Postal Banking – In the 115th Congress, Sen. Gillibrand introduced S. 2755, the Postal Banking Act. The Act aims to provide financial services to the 57 percent of Americans who have one or no banks in their zip code. The bill grants the U.S. Postal Service authority to offer low-cost small-dollar loans and remittance services, as well as checking and savings accounts that would come with debit cards and online services — a way to address the issues facing un-and underbanked Americans, e.g., in rural areas and an alternative to predatory lending practices like payday lending.

Equal Pay – Sen. Gillibrand has been an advocate for womens’ issues throughout her political career. She is an original co-sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, S. 270, which seeks to eliminate the gender pay gap. The law would ban employers from asking job applicants how much they made at their old job, make it illegal for companies to retaliate against employees who ask for raises, and give the Department of Labor tools to penalize equal pay violators.

Focus on Political Reform

A young, progressive Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand has established herself as an expert on policy, particularly on womens’ issues. In a crowded Democratic primary field, Sen. Gillibrand is running on a comprehensive plan to enact sweeping campaign finance reforms. Her Clean Elections proposal would undermine the influence of big money in politics, and it is part of a bigger plan to address voter access, fair districting, and ethics reform.

Yes, Sen. Gillibrand also supports Medicare-for-all, the Green New Deal, and raising the minimum wage, but campaign finance reform comes first — not because it is more important than the other issues, but because it is a necessary first step to advancing progressive policy — a first among equals in a season of reforms.

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