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

Hi, I'm Kyanna

I am the new fellow with Maryland PIRG, a recent graduate, an activist and environmentalist. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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News Release | Democracy

Our Statement Regarding the President’s “Commission on Election Integrity”

Read Maryland PIRG's statement on the President's establishment of an "Advisory Commission on Election Integrity."

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

Supporters of New Campaign Finance System Dominate Howard County Council Hearing on Citizen Funded Elections

Columbia, MD – On Wednesday, nearly 75 supporters of  the Howard County Citizens’ Election Fund program turned out for a rally and public hearing to support Council Bill 30 (CB30). In November, Howard County voters approved Question A, directing the Howard County Council to establish a new way to fund County Council and County Executive elections through a small donor matching program to limit large and corporate campaign contributions. 

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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. 

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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).

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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.

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Report | Demos and Maryland PIRG | Democracy

Billion Dollar Democracy

The first presidential election since Citizens United lived up to its hype, with unprecedented outside spending from new sources making headlines.
Dēmos and Maryland PIRG Foundation analysis of reports from campaigns, parties, and outside spenders to the Federal Election Commission found that our big money system distorts democracy and creates clear winners and losers.

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Report | Maryland PIRG and Demos | Democracy

Distorted Democracy: Post-Election Edition

Our new analysis of data through Election Day from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and other sources shows how big outside spenders drowned out small contributions in the 2012 election cycle: just 61 large donors to Super PACs giving on average $4.7 million each matched the $285.1 million in grassroots contributions from more than 1,425,500 small donors to the major party presidential candidates.

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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.

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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. 

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Blog Post

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

Blog Post

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

News Release

On Tuesday, Baltimore City voters approved an amendment to the city charter to create the Fair Election Fund and Commission. Proponents of the measure say it will bring balance to our democracy and make city government more representative and accountable to everyday people.

Blog Post

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

Blog Post

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.

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