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 | Democracy

Fair Elections Fund Resolution Introduced in Anne Arundel County

Progressive Maryland, Common Cause Maryland, Maryland PIRG and other organizations part of the Fair Elections Maryland Coalition are excited to witness the first step toward a long-awaited Small Donor Funded Elections Program (also called a Fair Elections Fund) for County Executive and County Council candidates.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG and Common Cause Maryland | Democracy

Baltimore County Council passes Fair Election Fund in bipartisan vote, including spending limits and increased qualifying thresholds

BALTIMORE - The Baltimore County Council has voted 6-1 to create a Fair Election Fund, allowing candidates for office in Baltimore County to run for office using a small donor public campaign financing program.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

Statement: Good governance advocates applaud introduction of Baltimore County Fair Elections bill

Today, Baltimore County Council President Julian Jones introduced legislation on behalf of County Executive John “Johnny O” Olszewski to create a Fair Election Fund, which allows candidates for County Executive and County Council to run using a small donor public campaign financing option.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Baltimore County Moves One Step Closer to Fair Elections | Rishi Shah

The Baltimore County Fair Election Fund Work Group recently released its recommendations for the Baltimore Fair Election Fund, a small donor public campaign financing program. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | Democracy

Big Money Plays Big Role in Baltimore City Elections

Large political contributions played an outsized role in Baltimore City’s 2020 mayoral elections, according to a new report released today by the Maryland PIRG Foundation.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

Fair Elections Fund Resolution Introduced in Anne Arundel County

Progressive Maryland, Common Cause Maryland, Maryland PIRG and other organizations part of the Fair Elections Maryland Coalition are excited to witness the first step toward a long-awaited Small Donor Funded Elections Program (also called a Fair Elections Fund) for County Executive and County Council candidates.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG and Common Cause Maryland | Democracy

Baltimore County Council passes Fair Election Fund in bipartisan vote, including spending limits and increased qualifying thresholds

BALTIMORE - The Baltimore County Council has voted 6-1 to create a Fair Election Fund, allowing candidates for office in Baltimore County to run for office using a small donor public campaign financing program.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

Statement: Good governance advocates applaud introduction of Baltimore County Fair Elections bill

Today, Baltimore County Council President Julian Jones introduced legislation on behalf of County Executive John “Johnny O” Olszewski to create a Fair Election Fund, which allows candidates for County Executive and County Council to run using a small donor public campaign financing option.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Democracy

Big Money Plays Big Role in Baltimore City Elections

Large political contributions played an outsized role in Baltimore City’s 2020 mayoral elections, according to a new report released today by the Maryland PIRG Foundation.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG and Common Cause Maryland | Democracy

Maryland’s 2022 Gubernatorial Race to feature Fair Campaign Financing Program

Next year’s race for Governor will feature at least one ticket choosing to use the Fair Campaign Financing program, which provides matching contributions for small-dollar political donations. Candidates have until February 22 to opt-in to the program and qualify for funding in the primary election. 

> 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 Baltimore's 2020 Elections

Big money - the large donations that come from corporations, PACs, and wealthy individuals - dominate current Baltimore politics. Due to the high cost of campaigning, people who want to run for office need to raise as much money as possible, as quickly as possible. As a result, the people and corporations that can write big checks are in the driver’s seat.

> 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

Pages

Blog Post | Democracy

Baltimore County Moves One Step Closer to Fair Elections | Rishi Shah

The Baltimore County Fair Election Fund Work Group recently released its recommendations for the Baltimore Fair Election Fund, a small donor public campaign financing program. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Four Fabulous Wins for Democracy during the 2021 Maryland General Assembly | Rishi Shah

American democracy has faced immense challenges in the last year, and it is clear that our voting system and campaign finance laws need reform. But while an important federal election reform bill called the “For The People Act” has stalled in the U.S. Senate, a handful of states, notably Maryland, are pushing forward with building a better democracy. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

We're calling on Gov. Hogan to support the Voter Empowerment Act | Rishi Shah

Today, over three dozen student leaders throughout Maryland sent a letter to Gov. Hogan in support of the Student and Military Voter Empowerment Act (HB0156/SB0283).

> 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
News Release | Maryland PIRG

Progressive Maryland, Common Cause Maryland, Maryland PIRG and other organizations part of the Fair Elections Maryland Coalition are excited to witness the first step toward a long-awaited Small Donor Funded Elections Program (also called a Fair Elections Fund) for County Executive and County Council candidates.

News Release | Maryland PIRG and Common Cause Maryland

BALTIMORE - The Baltimore County Council has voted 6-1 to create a Fair Election Fund, allowing candidates for office in Baltimore County to run for office using a small donor public campaign financing program.

News Release | Maryland PIRG

Today, Baltimore County Council President Julian Jones introduced legislation on behalf of County Executive John “Johnny O” Olszewski to create a Fair Election Fund, which allows candidates for County Executive and County Council to run using a small donor public campaign financing option.

Blog Post

The Baltimore County Fair Election Fund Work Group recently released its recommendations for the Baltimore Fair Election Fund, a small donor public campaign financing program. 

Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation

Big money - the large donations that come from corporations, PACs, and wealthy individuals - dominate current Baltimore politics. Due to the high cost of campaigning, people who want to run for office need to raise as much money as possible, as quickly as possible. As a result, the people and corporations that can write big checks are in the driver’s seat.

Democracy

Baltimore County Council passes Fair Election Fund

It's official. Big money just lost some of its power over Baltimore County's elections after the Baltimore County Council voted 6-1 in approval of the Maryland PIRG-backed Fair Election Fund, which allows political candidates to use a small donor program to finance their campaign.

 

Democracy

MarylandPIRG supports Baltimore's public financing program

Money shouldn't be a barrier to running for office. Maryland's new fair election fund will hopefully open the doors for more candidates. This measure is meant to safeguard the fund from candidates running frivolous campaigns to take advantage of the funding.

 

Democracy

Maryland PIRG Foundation sheds light on big money's role in Baltimore elections

In Baltimore, special interest money has dominated funding for mayoral campaigns for too long. In response, voters passed a new Maryland PIRG-backed small donor financing program designed to benefit voters, candidates and Baltimore as whole. The program will take effect for the 2024 elections.

 

Democracy

Maryland electoral reforms go into effect

Maryland is making big strides toward a fairer, more accessible democracy. In May, several bipartisan, Maryland PIRG-backed bills went into law to increase access to early voting, improve the state’s mail-in voting system, and reduce the influence of corporate interests in our elections via a public campaign financing program.

 
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