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 | Democracy

GROUPS RECOMMEND CHANGES IN ELECTIONS PROCEDURES

Common Cause Maryland, the League of Women Voters of Maryland, Maryland PIRG and ACLU of Maryland today urged Governor Larry Hogan and the Maryland Board of Elections to implement changes before the delayed 2020 Presidential Primary and the 7th Congressional District special election.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Legislating responsibly during COVID-19 | Emily Scarr

Common Cause Maryland and Maryland PIRG sent a letter to Senate President Miller and Speaker of the House Adrienne Jones Governor regarding operations during the coronavirus outbreak. The letter asks that they that ensure that the legislature's operations be as transparent as possible and that they maintain the public's ability to both observe and participate in our democratic process.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Democracy

Baltimore City Council Considers bill to Fully Fund Fair Elections Program

Baltimore – Councilman Kristerfer Burnett introduced an ordinance today to dedicate $2.5 million annually to the Baltimore City Fair Elections Fund. The funding comes from an existing revenue source and is expected to sufficiently fund the program. The bill is co-sponsored by Council President Scott and Councilmembers Bullock, Clarke, Cohen, Dorsey, Henry, and Sneed.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

Senate Committee Fails to Pass Student Voter Empowerment Act

Annapolis-- The Student Voter Empowerment Act, sponsored by Sen. Lam and House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke, failed to get enough votes to move out of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on Friday, February 28th. When brought to a vote, the Committee voted 5-5, one vote short of moving the bill to the full Senate for consideration.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection, Democracy, Safe Energy, Solid Waste

Our 2020 Maryland Legislative AgendaEmily ScarrRishi Shah

As the state's small donor funded public interest advocacy organization we are working hard on behalf of thousands of members across the state to protect public health, foster a stronger democracy, reduce waste, and more.

> Keep Reading

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News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

Students, Campus Staff, and Good Government Groups Back Bill to Require Polling Places on Many University Campuses -- to Expand College Student Voting

College students, university faculty and staff, and good governance organizations joined House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke and Sen. Clarence Lam in support of the Student Voter Empowerment Act (HB245/SB647), which aims to increase student voter participation and civic engagement.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

Baltimore Fair Elections Program Moves to Full Council Vote

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

> 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
News Release | Democracy

Fair Election Fund Charter Amendment Passes

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.

> 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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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
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).

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Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection, Democracy, Safe Energy, Solid Waste

Our 2020 Maryland Legislative AgendaEmily ScarrRishi Shah

As the state's small donor funded public interest advocacy organization we are working hard on behalf of thousands of members across the state to protect public health, foster a stronger democracy, reduce waste, and more.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Testimony: Student Voter Empowerment Act | Rishi Shah

We should make every effort to increase voter participation by making voter registration and the act of voting simple and accessible to all eligible voters. Unfortunately, many eligible Maryland voters, especially young Marylanders, are not voting.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

On student voting and active citizenship | Rishi Shah

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.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Public Health, Democracy, Safe Energy

Public Interest Priorities for the 2020 Legislative Session | Emily Scarr

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.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Public Health, Democracy

2019 Year in Review | Emily Scarr

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!

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post

It is Election Day in Maryland and today’s election is critically important for Baltimore, Maryland, and the entire country.

Blog Post

Voting by mail is a safe and secure way to participate during the COVID-19 crisis, so everyone who can vote by mail should vote by mail.

News Release | Maryland PIRG

Maryland held its special election for the 7th District Tuesday. Because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the State Board of Elections and Governor Larry Hogan moved the election to vote by mail with limited in person voting. Maryland PIRG, along with allies, made various recommendations to the State Board of Elections and the governor on how best to run the elections.

Blog Post

We submitted the following comments to the State Board of Elections in advance of their meeting on April 2, 2020.

Blog Post

The Maryland General Assembly wrapped up the 2020 legislative session last week, weeks earlier than expected. While the public health crisis meant some of our legislative priorities didn’t make it through this year, we still have a lot to celebrate.

Democracy

Maryland PIRG helps ensure that all Marylanders can vote safely in the state's primary

On April 1, Maryland PIRG sent a letter urging the State Board of Elections to ensure that all Marylanders can vote safely in their June 2 primary by recommending limited in-person voting for those that need it, in addition to universal vote-by-mail. The Board then recommended this course of action to Gov. Larry Hogan, who ratified it on April 12.

 

Democracy

Baltimore's effort to empower small donors in elections picks up momentum

Wealthy donors have long had an outsized influence on our elections, but Baltimore is helping to change that. City Councilman Kristerfer Burnett has introduced a bill to fully fund the Baltimore Fair Elections program, which puts small donors front and center.

 

Democracy

A somber anniversary: 10 years after the Citizens United decision

January 15th marked the 10th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, widely blamed for opening the floodgates to special interest spending in our elections. U.S. legislators joined PIRG and other pro-democracy organizations to decry the ongoing harm caused by the ruling—and to highlight the growth of the pro-reform movement. 

 

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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