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

Blog Post | Democracy

Our comments to the Maryland State Board of Elections | Emily Scarr

We submitted the following comments to the State Board of Elections in advance of their meeting on April 2, 2020.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection, Democracy, Health Care, Safe Energy, Solid Waste

Wins, losses, and 'almost did its' for 2020 | Emily Scarr

The Maryland General Assembly wrapped up the 2020 legislative session last week, weeks earlier than expected. While the public health crisis meant some of our legislative priorities didn’t make it through this year, we still have a lot to celebrate.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Democracy

GROUPS RECOMMEND CHANGES IN ELECTIONS PROCEDURES

Common Cause Maryland, the League of Women Voters of Maryland, Maryland PIRG and ACLU of Maryland today urged Governor Larry Hogan and the Maryland Board of Elections to implement changes before the delayed 2020 Presidential Primary and the 7th Congressional District special election.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Democracy

Baltimore City Council Considers bill to Fully Fund Fair Elections Program

Baltimore – Councilman Kristerfer Burnett introduced an ordinance today to dedicate $2.5 million annually to the Baltimore City Fair Elections Fund. The funding comes from an existing revenue source and is expected to sufficiently fund the program. The bill is co-sponsored by Council President Scott and Councilmembers Bullock, Clarke, Cohen, Dorsey, Henry, and Sneed.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

Senate Committee Fails to Pass Student Voter Empowerment Act

Annapolis-- The Student Voter Empowerment Act, sponsored by Sen. Lam and House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke, failed to get enough votes to move out of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on Friday, February 28th. When brought to a vote, the Committee voted 5-5, one vote short of moving the bill to the full Senate for consideration.

> Keep Reading

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News Release | Democracy

GROUPS RECOMMEND CHANGES IN ELECTIONS PROCEDURES

Common Cause Maryland, the League of Women Voters of Maryland, Maryland PIRG and ACLU of Maryland today urged Governor Larry Hogan and the Maryland Board of Elections to implement changes before the delayed 2020 Presidential Primary and the 7th Congressional District special election.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Democracy

Baltimore City Council Considers bill to Fully Fund Fair Elections Program

Baltimore – Councilman Kristerfer Burnett introduced an ordinance today to dedicate $2.5 million annually to the Baltimore City Fair Elections Fund. The funding comes from an existing revenue source and is expected to sufficiently fund the program. The bill is co-sponsored by Council President Scott and Councilmembers Bullock, Clarke, Cohen, Dorsey, Henry, and Sneed.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

Senate Committee Fails to Pass Student Voter Empowerment Act

Annapolis-- The Student Voter Empowerment Act, sponsored by Sen. Lam and House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke, failed to get enough votes to move out of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on Friday, February 28th. When brought to a vote, the Committee voted 5-5, one vote short of moving the bill to the full Senate for consideration.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Democracy

Who’s Funding Elections for Governor in Maryland?

Baltimore - A report released today by Maryland PIRG Foundation finds that the people and entities that donate to Maryland’s Gubernatorial campaigns are not reflective of Marylanders who are eligible to vote in these elections. The report finds that the money raised comes primarily from out of state or non individuals who contribute disproportionately large sums of money.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

Students, Campus Staff, and Good Government Groups Back Bill to Require Polling Places on Many University Campuses -- to Expand College Student Voting

College students, university faculty and staff, and good governance organizations joined House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke and Sen. Clarence Lam in support of the Student Voter Empowerment Act (HB245/SB647), which aims to increase student voter participation and civic engagement.

> Keep Reading

Pages

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

Big Money in Maryland Elections

In Maryland’s gubernatorial elections, the people and companies that donate to campaigns are not reflective of the Marylanders who vote in these elections. On average, donors make large contributions that most Marylanders can’t afford, only a small percentage of the population is making contributions, and the majority of money comes from donors who aren’t eligible to vote in these elections. 

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

Small donors driving 2020 presidential race

U.S. PIRG analyzed the campaign finance reports from 2020 candidates. We found that small donations, and the people who provide them, have a significant voice in the presidential race.

> Keep Reading
Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Democracy

Fair Elections in Montgomery County

This report analyzes the fundraising data from the 2018 county elections, the first election in Maryland to use a small donor matching system. Overall, the small donor matching system was largely successful in achieving its stated goals

> Keep Reading
Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation and Common Cause Maryland | Democracy

Fair Elections in Montgomery County

This report analyzes the fundraising data released after the first reporting deadline for candidates in the 2018 Montgomery County elections. Candidates participating in the small donor matching program are raising money from more individual people than those who are not participating. Our review of the data concludes that:

> Keep Reading

Maryland PIRG 2017 State Legislative Scorecard

Do your legislators support the public interest? Our 2017 State Legislative Scorecard reviews their votes on key public interest issues.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Democracy

Our comments to the Maryland State Board of Elections | Emily Scarr

We submitted the following comments to the State Board of Elections in advance of their meeting on April 2, 2020.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection, Democracy, Health Care, Safe Energy, Solid Waste

Wins, losses, and 'almost did its' for 2020 | Emily Scarr

The Maryland General Assembly wrapped up the 2020 legislative session last week, weeks earlier than expected. While the public health crisis meant some of our legislative priorities didn’t make it through this year, we still have a lot to celebrate.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection, Democracy, Safe Energy, Solid Waste

Our 2020 Maryland Legislative AgendaEmily ScarrRishi Shah

As the state's small donor funded public interest advocacy organization we are working hard on behalf of thousands of members across the state to protect public health, foster a stronger democracy, reduce waste, and more.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Testimony: Student Voter Empowerment Act | Rishi Shah

We should make every effort to increase voter participation by making voter registration and the act of voting simple and accessible to all eligible voters. Unfortunately, many eligible Maryland voters, especially young Marylanders, are not voting.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

On student voting and active citizenship | Rishi Shah

As a 2019 Johns Hopkins alumnus, I was glad to see my former university’s president, Ron Daniels, speak about the importance of civic education in the Washington Post. I wholeheartedly agree with President Daniels that “the most fundamental practice of democratic citizenship” is voting.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Democracy

New report highlights success of Montgomery Public Election

In Maryland's Montgomery County, if you wanted to run a campaign for public office funded by small donations from average people, you'd now have a fighting chance against the big-money candidates.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Third Maryland county set to limit big money's influence in elections

Another Maryland county has taken action to offset the influence of wealthy special interests over our elections.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Voters Get A Voice On Big Money: Baltimore Voters To Decide On Publicly Funded Elections

On July 30, Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh signed the proposed amendment, thereby allowing voters to decide whether the city should allow public funding of local election campaigns. If voters approve the amendment, the city would match small-dollar donations for eligible candidates starting in the 2024 election.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post

We submitted the following comments to the State Board of Elections in advance of their meeting on April 2, 2020.

Blog Post

The Maryland General Assembly wrapped up the 2020 legislative session last week, weeks earlier than expected. While the public health crisis meant some of our legislative priorities didn’t make it through this year, we still have a lot to celebrate.

News Release

Common Cause Maryland, the League of Women Voters of Maryland, Maryland PIRG and ACLU of Maryland today urged Governor Larry Hogan and the Maryland Board of Elections to implement changes before the delayed 2020 Presidential Primary and the 7th Congressional District special election.

News Release

Baltimore – Councilman Kristerfer Burnett introduced an ordinance today to dedicate $2.5 million annually to the Baltimore City Fair Elections Fund. The funding comes from an existing revenue source and is expected to sufficiently fund the program. The bill is co-sponsored by Council President Scott and Councilmembers Bullock, Clarke, Cohen, Dorsey, Henry, and Sneed.

News Release | Maryland PIRG

Annapolis-- The Student Voter Empowerment Act, sponsored by Sen. Lam and House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke, failed to get enough votes to move out of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on Friday, February 28th. When brought to a vote, the Committee voted 5-5, one vote short of moving the bill to the full Senate for consideration.

Democracy

PIRG urges states to adopt emergency absentee voting

The novel coronavirus outbreak is, understandably, causing many Americans to think twice about going to the polls. To protect public health and the integrity of our elections, PIRG is calling on states to make sure residents can cast absentee ballots for the 2020 elections.

 

Democracy

Baltimore's effort to empower small donors in elections picks up momentum

Wealthy donors have long had an outsized influence on our elections, but Baltimore is helping to change that. City Councilman Kristerfer Burnett has introduced a bill to fully fund the Baltimore Fair Elections program, which puts small donors front and center.

 

Democracy

A somber anniversary: 10 years after the Citizens United decision

January 15th marked the 10th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, widely blamed for opening the floodgates to special interest spending in our elections. U.S. legislators joined PIRG and other pro-democracy organizations to decry the ongoing harm caused by the ruling—and to highlight the growth of the pro-reform movement. 

 

Democracy | U.S. PIRG

Small donors are driving the 2020 presidential race

For years, it has been impossible to run for office without relying heavily on large dollar donations. While big money still has disproportionate influence, a combination of technological and cultural changes have made it possible for candidates for president to run for office while relying primarily on small-donor money.

 
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