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

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
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
News Release | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Democracy

MONTGOMERY CO. PUBLIC ELECTION FUND SUCCESSFULLY ENCOURAGES AND EMPOWERS SMALL DONORS

A report released today by Maryland PIRG Foundation finds that the Montgomery County Public Election Fund is working as intended, and is encouraging more small donor participation.

> 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
Blog Post | Public Health, Antibiotics, Consumer Protection, Democracy

2019 Legislative Priorities | Emily Scarr

Maryland PIRG’s mission is to deliver persistent, result-oriented public interest activism that protects consumers, encourages a fair, sustainable economy, and fosters democratic government.

> Keep Reading

Pages

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
News Release | Maryland PIRG and Fair Elections Howard Coalition | Democracy

Howard County Council Listens to Voters, Establishes Citizens’ Election Fund Program

Ellicott City, MD  – The Howard County Council voted 4-1 on Monday night to pass 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
News Release | Maryland PIRG and Fair Elections Howard Coalition | Democracy

Howard County Council Listens to Voters, Establishes Citizens’ Election Fund Program

Ellicott City, MD  – The Howard County Council voted 4-1 on Monday night to pass 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

Pages

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
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
Report | Maryland PIRG, Demos | Democracy

McCutcheon Money

This term, the Supreme Court is considering a challenge to aggregate contribution limits in a case called McCutcheon v. FEC. The current limit on what one person may contribute to all federal candidates, parties and PACs is $123,200. Absent this limit, one wealthy donor would be permitted to contribute more than $3.5 million to a single party’s candidates and party committees (plus a virtually unlimited amount to supportive PACs).

> Keep Reading
Report | US PIRG, Center for Media and Democracy | Democracy

Elections Confidential

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Mystery donors poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the 2012 elections via nonprofits and shell corporations, despite widespread public support for disclosure and decades of legal precedent supporting the public’s right to know the sources of election-related spending. A new report from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Center for Media and Democracy found that contributions from phony for-profit corporations accounted for nearly 17 percent of all business donations to Super PACs.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Public Health, Antibiotics, Consumer Protection, Democracy

2019 Legislative Priorities | Emily Scarr

Maryland PIRG’s mission is to deliver persistent, result-oriented public interest activism that protects consumers, encourages a fair, sustainable economy, and fosters democratic government.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Testimony: Maryland Small Donor Incentive Act | Emily Scarr

Our testimony on HB1017, a bill to establish small donor public financing for general assembly races. It's time to bring this program to the state level.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Testimony: Election Day Registration | Emily Scarr

Our testimony on the bill to allow eligible voters to register to vote, update their registration, and vote on Election Day.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Public Health, Democracy

2019 Legislative Priorities | Emily Scarr

Maryland's 90 day legislative session starts today. Here are our top priorities.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Democracy Wins on the Maryland Ballot | Emily Scarr

On Tuesday, voters approved 3 ballot questions backed by Maryland PIRG, each playing an important roll in strengthening our democracy.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post

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.

Blog Post

Maryland's 2020 Legislative session begins on January 8th. We'll release a full agenda soon, but in the mean time here are our top priorities.

Blog Post

2019 was another big year in the fight for the public interest. Here's just a small taste of some of our work and accomplishments. Thanks for standing by us in 2019, and we look forward to another incredible year!

Blog Post

Many Marylanders, especially young Marylanders, are not participating in elections. In the 2016 presidential election, turnout in Maryland as a percentage of the voting population was at its lowest in 24 years. In 2018, turnout of voters under 29 was at 31% compared to 47.5% of all eligible voters who turned out.[1][2] While this was an increase of 10% in youth voter participation since the last midterm election, we need to do better.

News Release | Maryland PIRG

This evening, the Baltimore City Council voted unanimously to move Council Bill 19-0403 to establish the Baltimore City Fair Elections program.

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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