Democracy For The People

Maryland PIRG is pushing back against big money in our elections and working to institute a system of small donor incentive programs, to amplify the voices of the American people over corporations, Super PACs and the super wealthy.

The money election

One person, one vote: That’s how we’re taught elections in our democracy are supposed to work. Candidates should compete to win our votes by revealing their vision, credentials and capabilities. We, the people then get to decide who should represent us.

Except these days there's another election: Call it the money election. And in the money election, most people don’t have any say at all. Instead, a small number of super-wealthy individuals and corporations decide which candidates will raise enough money to run the kind of high-priced campaign it takes to win. This money election starts long before you and I even have a chance to cast our votes, and its consequences are felt long after. On issue after issue, politicians often favor the donors who funded their campaigns over the people they're elected to represent.

Image: Flickr User: Joe Shlabotnik - Creative Commons

Super PACs and Super Wealthy Dominate Elections

Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, the super wealthy and the mega donors have gained even more influence in the “money election.” 

Take the recent mid-term elections. Our report The Dominance of Big Money in the 2014 Congressional Elections looked at 25 competitive House races, and in those races the top two vote-getters got more than 86 percent of their contributions from large donors. Meanwhile, only two of those candidates raised less than 70 percent of their individual contributions from large donors.

This disparity was also on full display in the 2012 presidential election. Combined both candidates raised $313 million from 3.7 million small donors — donors who each gave less than $200. However, that $313 million was matched by just 32 Super PAC donors, who each gave an average of more than $9 million. Think about that: just 32 donors — a small enough number that they could all ride on a school bus together — were able match the contributions of 3.7 million ordinary Americans.

So what happens when a handful of super rich donors spend lavishly on elections? For one thing, their money often determines who wins an election. In 2012, 84 percent of House candidates who outspent their opponents in the general election won. 

But perhaps the bigger problem is what it does to the public’s trust in their democracy, and the faith we all place in our elected officials. Americans’ confidence in government is near an all-time low, in large part because many Americans believe that government responds to the wishes of the wealthiest donors — and not to the interests or needs of regular Americans. 

Taking Back Our Democracy

It’s time to reclaim our elections. That's why U.S. PIRG has launched our Democracy For The People campaign.

Our campaign seeks to overturn the Citizens United decision. We want to pass an amendment to our Constitution declaring that corporations are not people, money is not speech, and our elections are not for sale. To do so, we’re going state-by-state, city-by-city to build the support its going to take to win. We’ve already helped get 16 states and nearly 600 cities, counties and towns to formally tell Congress that the Constitution must be amended. Getting this across the finish line won’t be easy, but it’s what’s necessary to reclaim our democracy.

In the meantime, we're working to amplify the voices of ordinary people in our elections. So we're also working to create systems of incentives and matching funds for small contributions — systems that are already in place in some cities and counties.  

Amplifying The Voices Of Small Donors

We’re building support for the Government By the People Act, a bill in Congress which will help bring more small donors into our elections, and increase their impact. Here’s how:

  • Government By the People Act encourages more people to participate by giving small donors a $25 credit on their taxes.
  • The Act increases the impact of small donations by creating a fund that will match those donations at least 6-to-1 if a candidate agrees to forego large contributions.

It’s possible to enact programs like this, in fact there was a similar federal tax credit in place from 1971 to 1986.  And more recently, cities like New York have passed small donor programs and seen real results. For example, in the 2013 New York City Council races small donors were responsible for 61 percent of the participating candidates’ contributions (once matching funds were factored in), making small donors the largest source of campaign cash. Their big-money opponents got only 19 percent of their contributions from small donors.

We need more success stories like these if we are going to build momentum for change. That’s why we’re working with cities and towns across the country to establish small donor incentive programs of their own.

With your help, we can win real changes now in how elections are funded throughout America — so more candidates for more offices focus on we, the people, and not just the mega-donors and Super PACs who are undermining our democracy and the principles upon which it stands.

Issue updates

News Release | Maryland PIRG and Fair Elections Howard Coalition | Democracy

County Council Overrides County Executive Allan Kittleman’s Veto of CB30 with 4-1 Vote

The Howard County Council voted 4-1 on Monday night to override a veto from County Executive Allan Kittleman of Council Bill 30 (CB30) to establish the Howard County Citizens’ Election Fund. Howard County is the 2nd county in the state, after Montgomery, to establish a voluntary program for small donor financing of County Council and County Executive races.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

County Executive Allan Kittleman vetoes CB30 for citizen funded elections | Emily Scarr

We are deeply disappointed that County Executive Allan H. Kittleman has vetoed CB30. In November, the citizens of Howard County voted to pass Question A, an amendment to the County Charter creating the Citizens’ Election Fund and directing the County Council to finalize the program. We applaud the Council for responding with Council Bill 30 to finalize the program..

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG and Fair Elections Howard Coalition | Democracy

Howard County Council Listens to Voters, Establishes Citizens’ Election Fund Program

Ellicott City, MD  – The Howard County Council voted 4-1 on Monday night to pass Council Bill 30 (CB30) to establish the Howard County Citizens’ Election Fund. Howard County is the 2nd county in the state, after Montgomery, to establish a voluntary program for small donor financing of County Council and County Executive races.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG and Fair Elections Howard Coalition | Democracy

Howard County Council Listens to Voters, Establishes Citizens’ Election Fund Program

Ellicott City, MD  – The Howard County Council voted 4-1 on Monday night to pass Council Bill 30 (CB30) to establish the Howard County Citizens’ Election Fund. Howard County is the 2nd county in the state, after Montgomery, to establish a voluntary program for small donor financing of County Council and County Executive races.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Democracy

Our Statement Regarding the President’s “Commission on Election Integrity”

Read Maryland PIRG's statement on the President's establishment of an "Advisory Commission on Election Integrity."

> Keep Reading

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News Release | Maryland PIRG and Fair Elections Howard Coalition | Democracy

County Council Overrides County Executive Allan Kittleman’s Veto of CB30 with 4-1 Vote

The Howard County Council voted 4-1 on Monday night to override a veto from County Executive Allan Kittleman of Council Bill 30 (CB30) to establish the Howard County Citizens’ Election Fund. Howard County is the 2nd county in the state, after Montgomery, to establish a voluntary program for small donor financing of County Council and County Executive races.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG and Fair Elections Howard Coalition | Democracy

Howard County Council Listens to Voters, Establishes Citizens’ Election Fund Program

Ellicott City, MD  – The Howard County Council voted 4-1 on Monday night to pass Council Bill 30 (CB30) to establish the Howard County Citizens’ Election Fund. Howard County is the 2nd county in the state, after Montgomery, to establish a voluntary program for small donor financing of County Council and County Executive races.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG and Fair Elections Howard Coalition | Democracy

Howard County Council Listens to Voters, Establishes Citizens’ Election Fund Program

Ellicott City, MD  – The Howard County Council voted 4-1 on Monday night to pass Council Bill 30 (CB30) to establish the Howard County Citizens’ Election Fund. Howard County is the 2nd county in the state, after Montgomery, to establish a voluntary program for small donor financing of County Council and County Executive races.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Democracy

Our Statement Regarding the President’s “Commission on Election Integrity”

Read Maryland PIRG's statement on the President's establishment of an "Advisory Commission on Election Integrity."

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG and Fair Elections Howard Coalition | Democracy

Supporters of New Campaign Finance System Dominate Howard County Council Hearing on Citizen Funded Elections

Columbia, MD – On Wednesday, nearly 75 supporters of  the Howard County Citizens’ Election Fund program turned out for a rally and public hearing to support Council Bill 30 (CB30). In November, Howard County voters approved Question A, directing the Howard County Council to establish a new way to fund County Council and County Executive elections through a small donor matching program to limit large and corporate campaign contributions. 

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Result | Democracy

Delivering one million petitions to President Obama on dark money

U.S. PIRG joined a broad coalition to deliver one million petitions from Americans, including U.S. PIRG members and supporters, calling on President Obama to shine a light on dark money, or secret political spending.

> Keep Reading
Result | Democracy

Giving more Americans a greater voice in our elections

In our democracy, the size of your wallet shouldn’t determine the volume of your voice. In 2015, we helped win reforms in Maine and Seattle to ensure that more Americans have a greater say in our elections. Seattle’s Initiative-122 empowers small donors with “democracy vouchers” that can be donated to local candidates and lowers the cap on contributions. In Maine, the state’s Clean Elections Act was improved by strengthening campaign finance disclosure laws and offering qualifying candidates increased public funding.

> Keep Reading

Voting and Democracy Protections

Money plays far too great a role in American elections, from the municipal level all the way up to the presidency.  Large contributions from a limited number of wealthy interests unduly influence who wins elections and reduce the role of citizen voters in our democracy. Maryland PIRG worked to protect voting rights and increase transparency.

> Keep Reading
Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Democracy

Boosting the Impact of Small Donors

The vast majority of the funds raised for the 2016 election have come from wealthy donors making contributions exponentially larger than most Americans can afford, typically to super PACs and other organizations that can legally accept donations of any size. This report examines how the 2016 presidential race would be reshaped by a public financing system that amplifies the voices of small donors in our elections.

> Keep Reading
Report | Maryland PIRG and Demos | Democracy

The Money Chase

This report examines the role of money in the 2014 congressional elections from both quantitative and qualitative perspectives, and demonstrates how matching small political contributions with limited public funds can change the campaign landscape for grassroots candidates.

> Keep Reading
Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation and Demos | Democracy

The Dominance of Big Money in the 2014 Congressional Elections

In 2014, large donors accounted for the vast majority of all individual federal election contributions this cycle, just as they have in previous elections. Seven of every 10 individual contribution dollars to the federal candidates, parties, PACs and Super PACs that were active in the 2013-2014 election cycle came from donors who gave $200 or more. Candidates alone got 84 percent of their individual contributions from large donors.

> Keep Reading
Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation and Demos | Democracy

Big Money Dominates in Congressional Primaries

Our analysis of fund-raising data from 2014’s congressional primaries examines the way these dynamics are playing out state by state across the country.  We looked at two key factors: first, the proportion of all candidate contributions coming from donations of $1,000 or larger; and second, the number of large donors whose contributions matched all donations by small donors (those giving less than $200), combined. 

> Keep Reading
Report | Maryland PIRG, Demos | Democracy

McCutcheon Money

This term, the Supreme Court is considering a challenge to aggregate contribution limits in a case called McCutcheon v. FEC. The current limit on what one person may contribute to all federal candidates, parties and PACs is $123,200. Absent this limit, one wealthy donor would be permitted to contribute more than $3.5 million to a single party’s candidates and party committees (plus a virtually unlimited amount to supportive PACs).

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Blog Post | Democracy

County Executive Allan Kittleman vetoes CB30 for citizen funded elections | Emily Scarr

We are deeply disappointed that County Executive Allan H. Kittleman has vetoed CB30. In November, the citizens of Howard County voted to pass Question A, an amendment to the County Charter creating the Citizens’ Election Fund and directing the County Council to finalize the program. We applaud the Council for responding with Council Bill 30 to finalize the program..

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Testimony on Banning Corporate Campaign Contribution HB0376 | Emily Scarr

It is time for Maryland to ban corporate contributions to campaigns. There are twenty two states that prohibit corporations from contributing to political campaigns.  Unfortunately, Maryland is not yet one of them.
Corporations are given special power to amass money for economic purposes. Corporate treasury funds do not represent public support for the corporation's political ideas; it is therefore inappropriate to use these funds to influence public policy.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Call your representative and senators every day. Here's how. | Andre Delattre

There’s a lot unfolding in Washington, D.C., right now, and you may be wondering: “What can I do to voice my concerns?”

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Introducing the Government By the People Act | Emily Scarr

Today, Rep. John Sarbanes introduced the Government by the People Act, a small donor empowerment bill aimed at providing an equal voice to everyday voters currently drowned out by super PACs and wealthy contributors.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Testimony on SB 64 – Voter Registration - Affiliating With a Party | Emily Scarr

Common Cause Maryland, Maryland PIRG, and the ACLU of Maryland support SB 64 which would allow unaffiliated, registered voters to change their registration to a party during early voting period.

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