In the last Democratic debate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., made two big announcements that could change the way money flows into and out of our political system.

First, she promised not to take PAC money or take large contributions from corporate executives all the way through the general election. And second, she rolled out a package of reforms to the way elections are funded that includes a system where small donations are matched 6-to-1. If passed, that would mean that a $20 donation from an average person turns into $120 for their favorite candidate, and that, in turn, would enable many more candidates to do what Warren has done and run a campaign dependent on the people, not special interests.

This would work a monumental improvement in our politics.

But Warren’s burgeoning success without relying on big money raises the natural question: what do the wealthy donors still funneling money to the other campaigns expect to get from their political investments? Though Warren has distanced herself from high-dollar donations, wealthy Democratic donors continue to dump hundreds of millions of dollars into candidate accounts, PACs, SuperPACs, party funds, dark money groups, and all the rest, in the hopes that they can help the Democrats win in 2020.

But what comes next? What will the Democrats actually be able to do if they win?

Sadly, without the kind of anti-corruption reforms that Warren and a few other candidates have committed to pushing first, nothing of substance.

Here is the problem. The political system is not currently designed to provide the kind of policy solutions that can actually solve our problems. Instead, as Harvard Professor Michael Porter and reformer Katherine Gehl have convincingly shown, the system is instead designed to sustain the industry of politics: lobbyists, fundraisers, ad sales on cable news, consultants, and more. The more gridlock there is, the more money flows into the system to ramp up the anger about the gridlock. Just look at the evidence: when Republicans swept into unified power after 2016 they got lobbyist-influenced tax cuts…and little else. Before that, when Democrats swept into huge majorities after 2008, they got lobbyist-influenced Obamacare…and little else.

Don’t expect much difference if the Democratic nominee beats Trump in 2020 and overlooks a fundamental reform of our democratic system. Business as usual means there will be little space for actual good governance. As Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., recently said to reformer Lawrence Lessig on the podcast “Another Way,” since we are now in a state of full-time political campaigning and fundraising, that must mean we have no time for actually governing. The two are mutually exclusive.

So what to do? Well, if you’re a political candidate, you can pledge to fix our democracy first if you win in 2020. Many presidential candidates, including Warren, have made that pledge. It’s the critical first step to get us out of the constant campaign and back to getting things done for the American people. And to be maximally effective, the plans should include public financing of elections, redistricting commissions to end gerrymandering, ways to improve voter access, and more.

And if you’re a concerned citizen, you too can support the effort. If you’re thinking of making a political donation — or, as wealthy donor networks think of it, a political investment — you should put reform at the top of your agenda, so that it will actually be possible to fix what you really want fixed. 

Do you care about rising health care costs? Give to a group getting big money out of politics so that the big insurers don’t write the next healthcare law. Do you want common-sense gun control? Make sure you donate to a candidate that pledges to fix our democracy first, so that the NRA won’t threaten massive ad buys that block any chance at reform. Want to solve the student debt crisis? Strange as it may seem, it’s probably best to direct your dollars and effort to those fighting for democracy reform, because without that, meaningful legislation to give folks real relief is little more than a fantasy.

I acknowledge that this may seem counterintuitive for the wealthy donors who, in the current system, feel like they can give enough money to make a real difference. No doubt many are well-meaning, concerned citizens who wish to make a better America for everyone. But the reality is that pumping more dollars into the existing system without demanding fundamental change is no different than investing in a failing startup without asking for a change in the way they do business. It’s throwing good money after bad.

The futility of it all reminds me of nothing so much as that old Saturday Night Live spoof commercial for a fake business called the “National Change Bank.” This bank’s “business” was changing money into different combinations of bills and coins, with no actual profit (“If you come to us with a 20-dollar bill, we can give you two 10s, we can give you four fives—we can give you a 10 and two fives.”) The best line in the ad was when someone asked how such a bank can possibly make money, and the manager said “the answer is simple: volume.”

That’s funny because it’s so obviously a total lie: if your whole business is changing a 10-dollar bill into two fives, you can’t make a profit, no matter how much volume you do.

But the sad truth is that our political system works the same way: those who give money hoping that the recipients will be able to create fair solutions that work for real people will be sorely disappointed. The fact is that you simply can’t get good value for your investment whether you pump $1, $1,000, or $1 million dollars into the current system, because the whole business model is broken.

So please: help fix it first.

Jason Harrow is the Executive Director and Chief Counsel of EqualCitizens.US