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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tools & Resources
Good Policy, Good PoliticsGreenberg Quinlan Rosner Research
Find up your polling place, look up your voter information, register onlineMaryland State Board of Elections
Maryland State Board of Elections
BIG AND SECRET MONEY IN MARYLAND IN THE 2012 ELECTIONSPeople for the American Way Foundation, Maryland PIRG Foundation
Baltimore Fair Elections Coalition calls for FundingBaltimore Fair Elections Coalition
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Tell your representative to stand up for our democracy, and amplify the voices of small donors in our elections.
Your donation supports Maryland PIRG's work to stand up for consumers on the issues that matter, especially when powerful interests are blocking progress.