Gandalf, playing the billionaires, refusing the One Ring

When Billionaires Say: “Give us less.”

4 min readJan 16, 2024


Today, EqualCitizens.US (our C4) will file its “Major Contributor Report” with the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Elections Practice. That report will list hundreds of donors who have given to support the gathering of signatures for Maine’s anti-SuperPAC initiative.

The vast majority of those contributors gave relatively small amounts to support the effort. (We’re grateful!) But a few made sizeable contributions, both in cash and through loans (loans which I have guaranteed personally).

These large contributors are doing something rare in American politics: They are spending their money to reduce the influence of people like them.

A decade ago, I worked with many to set up the first “SuperPAC to end SuperPACs.” Some of the contributors we will report today were part of that movement. (Though, as I discovered when trying to raise the funds to support this new effort, many of those who opposed SuperPACs a decade ago now love SuperPACs. Some even defend them (or at least their “donor advisors”— the only job really threatened by the end of SuperPACs—defend them).)

But we believe we have a strategy — based on the work of FreeSpeechForPeople and our own arguments about how originalists should view SuperPACs (see especially the section “Is it inconceivable the originalists would be consistent?” in this essay)— that will ultimately result in the United States Supreme Court declaring that SuperPACs are not required by the First Amendment.

We are grateful to everyone who has supported this effort. I am especially grateful to those who put a commitment to democracy above their own personal interest or power. We live in an age when billionaires feel entitled to leverage their wealth to influence any damn thing, from the policies behind international conflicts to whether and how students on campus are punished for their unpopular speech. We need more billionaires who stand up to say,

“I’m spending my money to make sure people like me have the same influence in American politics as anyone does—which is to say, much less influence than the law gives us now.”

Our work in Maine, however, is limited. This initiative was born over a dinner in Maine last summer organized by LeadershipNow. I had been invited to discuss our work to get a similar initiative on the Massachusetts ballot. That conversation led some at that table — including a leading democracy-reforming Republican, State Senator Rick Bennett — to suggest trying the initiative in Maine. Because this initiative depends upon a legal theory that’s true but that no court has yet to endorse, EqualCitizens.US determined to take the lead in raising funds necessary to give Mainers the chance to vote on the initiative. We made that decision only after we determined that the vast majority of Mainers support limiting the influence of SuperPACs (here’s the poll). Those results are not surprising in a state that passed an anti-foreign money initiative by over 85%.

Yet EqualCitizens.US will not be directly involved in the campaign to persuade Mainers to vote one way or another. We are eager to help raise the money to support the Maine democracy organizations that will do the work to advance this initiative (including the ballot question committee, Maine Citizens to End SuperPACs). We are also eager to support the legal argument that will ultimately empower Maine and every sovereign to limit contributions to independent political action committees. But whether Mainers ultimately choose to support the initiative or not is a question for Mainers. We’ve given them the chance to say one way or another. It’s not for us to run or manage a campaign to persuade them one way or another.

I get that some feel like there are more urgent fights just now — like the fight for democracy itself. That is, of course, the critical fight before us now. But when we win that immediate fight, we will need to secure for democracy the chance to solve the problems we face as a nation without the endless obeisance to America’s aristocrats. America was meant to be aristocracy-free. It’s time we make that commitment real.

Thank you to the almost 80,000 Mainers who signed the initiative, which will be presented to the Secretary of State early next week. Thank you as well to the scores of Mainers who helped gather signatures on Election Day (many led by the great Diane Russell). And thank you especially to everyone who has helped so far (and you can join them here) — including particularly those who have the most to lose when we win!

Read more about the initiative here:

And you can support this effort (we’re still funding the signature gathering!), here.