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 Foundation | Democracy

Outside electoral spending gives megadonors an outsized voice

As the dust begins to clear on this year’s midterms, it is clear that deep-pocketed donors played an outsized role in funding our elections.  According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, as of reporting on Election Day, spending from Super PACs, c(4)s, and other outside groups reached $553 million, 80% higher than similar spending in the 2010 midterm elections.  And this spending is disproportionately from megadonors – in fact, according to campaign reporting to date, just 17 donors to Super PACs spent as much as the at least 793,000 small donors to Congressional candidates.

> 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
News Release | Maryland PIRG Foundation and Demos | Democracy

Big Money Playing an Outsized Role in Maryland Elections

In Maryland’s congressional primaries, bigger wallets give a small set of mega-donors an outsized voice, according to new information released today by the Maryland PIRG Foundation and Demos. Just 122 donors who gave $1,000 or more to candidates in the primaries outspent the at least 2,440 small donors who gave less than $200, and 63% of all candidate contributions came from donors giving chunks of $1,000 or more.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Fair Elections Maryland Coalition | Democracy

Montgomery County Passes Small-Donor Campaign Finance Reform

Rockville, MD – The Montgomery County Council today took a huge step forward for fair elections by passing with a unanimous vote Bill 16-14, creating a program for county council and executive campaigns that would fight big money interests by empowering small donors in County elections.

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News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

Federal Campaign Spending Data Confirms Escalation for Mega-donors and Super PAC's

New campaign finance data from the FEC confirms that this year’s congressional election will mark yet another escalation for mega-donors and Super PACs to be able to drown out the voices of ordinary Americans.

> Keep Reading

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SECRETS AND LIES

U.S. PIRG, Maryland PIRG and small business representatives and others call on U.S. Chamber of Commerce to disclose the sources of funds behind its dark money electoral advertising

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News Release | Democracy

New Report Details Latest Numbers on Outside Spending, Secret Money, and Super PAC Fundraising for 2012 Elections

WASHINGTON – The Top 5 “dark money” spenders on presidential election ads have reported less than 1% of their spending to the FEC, which is all that is required by the agency’s insufficient standards, according to a new report analyzing the latest campaign filings. 

Today, national public policy organizations Demos and U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) released “Million-Dollar Megaphones: Super PACs and Unlimited Outside Spending in the 2012 Elections,” which provides a detailed analysis of Federal Election Commission (FEC) data and secondary sources on outside spending and Super PAC fundraising for the 2012 election cycle.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Democracy

Florida Victory for Young People

Tallahassee, FL – Civic groups and Florida voters won a huge victory when a federal judge indicated he will permanently remove some of the most restrictive parts of Florida’s new voter registration laws, which have made it harder for student governments and civic groups to help register young people to vote.

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News Release | Corporate Reform Coalition, US PIRG | Democracy

New Report: Sunlight State by State After Citizens United

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts from their treasuries to influence elections, states have passed a variety of innovative measures to regulate corporate cash in elections, a new report by the Corporate Reform Coalition shows.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Budget, Democracy

Thirty Fortune 500 Companies Paid More to Lobby Congress than they Did in Federal Income Taxes

With the second anniversary approaching of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case – which opened the floodgates to corporate spending on elections – Maryland PIRG and Citizens for Tax Justice reveal 30 corporations that spent more to lobby Congress than they did in taxes.

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