Next month brings with it another campaign for president, and that means it is time for NYRA to once again look into the issue of campaign contributions from young people. This is an issue NYRA has followed since 2002 when the Shays-Meehan Campaign Finance bill was introduced that ultimately became the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act which banned all campaign contributions from individuals under 18.
We followed the issue as it wound its way through the courts, and cheered when the ban was struck down in district court, especially the words of Judge Henderson who wrote: “no case of which I am aware holds that a minor’s speech is less valuable to himself — or to the political marketplace — simply because of his youth.” We waited with bated breath as the case was appealed to the Supreme Court and became the landmark McConnell vs. FEC. We were then happily astonished to see the ban on youth contributions struck down unanimously. And finally, after the ruling was handed down, NYRA participated in the FEC rules making process by submitting a whitepaper regarding regulations concerning youth contributions, rules that ended up being quite favorable for youth contributions.
After all that, you’d think the battle would be won, right? Sadly no. Even though there is no federal law requiring them to do so, the campaign donation website ActBlue chooses to discriminate against young donors anyhow.
ActBlue processes donations from every 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and a huge number of candidates for lower office as well, accounting for 55% of all contributions to Democratic congressional candidates. So even Democratic candidates such as Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard who support lowering the voting age to 16 won’t accept 16-year-old’s donations. A quick survey of other campaigns shows that President Donald Trump, and Green Party candidates Howie Hawkins and Dario Hunter similarly refuse to accept teen donations. Republican Bill Weld and Libertarian Party candidates Vermin Supreme, Adam Kokesh and Jacob Hornberger all accept donations from young people.
It seems counter-intuitive that candidates use a service that turns away many of their supporters. Someone wants to give you money to support your aspirations of becoming president and you turn them away? Tell them that their support is not wanted? Just because of their age? With as expensive as campaigns are now, and how essential donations are to a successful political campaign, it is shocking that any candidate would turn down such support. Much is made of the corrupting influence of campaign donations, but do candidates refuse to accept the money of deep pocketed donors? No. They just use a service that refuses to accept the money of youth.
Denying donations from youth further cuts off candidates from the needs and desires of young people. It sends the strong message that their voices don’t matter. This is age discrimination and NYRA believes this is wrong.
NYRA is working on fighting back. We were contacted by representatives of the Yang campaign who had reservations about ActBlue; we then spoke to a representative from ActBlue who told us they were concerned about violating the “Internet Child Protection” laws. We informed them that the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) doesn’t apply to non-profits or individuals over 13 and asked them to clarify their legal concerns, but they did not elaborate and said they were not revising their policy at this time.
We tried speaking with ActBlue directly and they said they are not willing to change. Now we have to pressure them from the outside. We ask that all NYRA supporters and friends of youth join us in reminding ActBlue that young people have a stake in this country too and deserve a chance to voice their support. Since the ballot box is not available to them, due to the too high voting age, political contributions are one avenue left to young people. ActBlue shouldn’t take that away too.