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

Baltimore City Council votes for Fair Elections | Emily Scarr

Last night, the Baltimore City Council voted unanimously to support a charter amendment for the Fair Elelctions Fund and commission. If the charter amendment gets approvedl at their July 9th meeting, it will be up to Mayor Pugh to give final approval for the amendment to be on November's ballot. Read more from the Baltimore Sun.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Baltimore City Council makes moves towards Fair Elections | Emily Scarr

Last night, the Baltimore City Council voted unanimously to support a charter amendment for the Fair Elelctions Fund and commission. If the charter amendment gets approvedl at their July 9th meeting, it will be up to Mayor Pugh to give final approval for the amendment to be on November's ballot. Read more from the Baltimore Sun.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Councilman Burnett introduces Baltimore Fair Elections legislation | Emily Scarr

I’ve been so proud to work with community members, local and national legislators, and likeminded organizations – who have made Maryland a leader in the fight to get big money out of our elections. On Monday, Councilman Burnett took a huge step to strengthen Baltimore’s democracy with a charter amendment and companion proposal to bring citizen funded elections to Baltimore City. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

Maryland PIRG statement on voter modernization reforms

Today, the Maryland House of Delegates passed SB1048, the Secure and Accessible Registration Act (SARA), a form of Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) with a bipartisan vote of 93-46. Having passed both houses with a veto proof majority, the bill now moves to Governor Hogan’s desk for his signature. This follows after both chambers passed HB532, a constitutional amendment to enable Election Day registration in Maryland. HB532 is not subject to a veto from the Governor.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Democracy

Maryland Senate and House Pass Strong Voter Registrations Reforms

“In conjunction, these bills work to streamline our voter registration process so more Marylanders can exercise their right to vote,” explained Senator Will Smith, the lead sponsor of SB1048 and a cosponsor of Election Day Registration.

> Keep Reading

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News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

Maryland PIRG statement on voter modernization reforms

Today, the Maryland House of Delegates passed SB1048, the Secure and Accessible Registration Act (SARA), a form of Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) with a bipartisan vote of 93-46. Having passed both houses with a veto proof majority, the bill now moves to Governor Hogan’s desk for his signature. This follows after both chambers passed HB532, a constitutional amendment to enable Election Day registration in Maryland. HB532 is not subject to a veto from the Governor.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Democracy

Maryland Senate and House Pass Strong Voter Registrations Reforms

“In conjunction, these bills work to streamline our voter registration process so more Marylanders can exercise their right to vote,” explained Senator Will Smith, the lead sponsor of SB1048 and a cosponsor of Election Day Registration.

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

Montgomery Co. Public Election Fund Successfully Encourages and Empowers Small Donors

On Monday, January 29, Maryland PIRG Foundation and Common Cause Maryland will release a report on the initial success of the Montgomery County Public Election Fund. The report will look at  the fundraising trends for candidates using the small donor matching program and the trends of candidates not using the program.  

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

Montgomery Co. Public Election Fund Successfully Encourages and Empowers Small Donors

On Monday, January 29, Maryland PIRG Foundation and Common Cause Maryland will release a report on the initial success of the Montgomery County Public Election Fund. The report will look at  the fundraising trends for candidates using the small donor matching program and the trends of candidates not using the program.  

> Keep Reading
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

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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 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
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

Pages

Blog Post | Democracy

Baltimore City Council votes for Fair Elections | Emily Scarr

Last night, the Baltimore City Council voted unanimously to support a charter amendment for the Fair Elelctions Fund and commission. If the charter amendment gets approvedl at their July 9th meeting, it will be up to Mayor Pugh to give final approval for the amendment to be on November's ballot. Read more from the Baltimore Sun.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Baltimore City Council makes moves towards Fair Elections | Emily Scarr

Last night, the Baltimore City Council voted unanimously to support a charter amendment for the Fair Elelctions Fund and commission. If the charter amendment gets approvedl at their July 9th meeting, it will be up to Mayor Pugh to give final approval for the amendment to be on November's ballot. Read more from the Baltimore Sun.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Councilman Burnett introduces Baltimore Fair Elections legislation | Emily Scarr

I’ve been so proud to work with community members, local and national legislators, and likeminded organizations – who have made Maryland a leader in the fight to get big money out of our elections. On Monday, Councilman Burnett took a huge step to strengthen Baltimore’s democracy with a charter amendment and companion proposal to bring citizen funded elections to Baltimore City. 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

We should ban corporate campaign contributions in Maryland | Emily Scarr

Today we submitted this testimony on Delegate David Moon's bill to ban corporate campaign contributions.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

HB785: The Maryland Small Donor Incentive Act | Emily Scarr

Our democracy is based on the premise that every citizen, regardless of wealth has more or less equal opportunity to influence the actions of our government. Unfortunately, large and corporate contribitions, which few of us can afford to make have undue influence over who can run for office and who wins elections. 

> Keep Reading

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