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 | Maryland PIRG and Demos | Democracy

Study Shows Big Donors Dominated Competitive 2014 Congressional Races

New stude finds that the top two vote-getters in the 25 most competitive districts in 2014 got 86 percent of their campaign dollars from individuals giving $200 or more. Only two of the 50 candidates surveyed raised less than 70 percent of their individual contributions from big donors, and seven relied on big donors for more than 95 percent of their individual contributions.

> 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
News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

Maryland PIRG opposes proposal to greatly increase contribution limits as part of the omnibus spending bill

"In the midterms a month ago, we all saw yet another reminder of the dominance of big money in our elections. Yet, instead of advancing common-sense solutions to raise the voices of small donors, set reasonable limits on big money, and ensure that the public knows where campaign money comes from, Congress is now poised to approve changes to campaign finance laws that would give megadonors an even louder voice.  Most Americans find it hard to afford giving even one or two hundred dollars to candidates and causes they believe in, but these revisions would allow big donors to give over $200,000 a year to party committees.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

Supreme Court decision added $24.8 million in additional campaign spending by mega-donors

The Supreme Court’s most recent decision allowing more big money into our elections, April’s McCutcheon case, allowed $24.8 million in additional campaign spending by megadonors, according to new information released today by Maryland PIRG

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG and Demos | Democracy

Congressional Races Dominated by Big Money

In Maryland’s just-concluded congressional elections, bigger wallets gave mega-donors an outsized voice, according to new information released today by Maryland PIRG and Demos (report attached below).  The analysis found that in Maryland, candidates got 85 percent of their contributions from individuals from donors giving $200 or more – and nationally, 84% of individual contributions came from these larger donors.  Larger donors also played a central role in contributions to PACs, Super PACs, and party committees – when their fundraising is included with that of candidates, seven out of every ten dollars in individual contributions came from donors giving $200 or more.

> Keep Reading

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Fraud, Failure No Deterrent to Federal Contract Awards

Companies with immediate past histories of shoddy work and fraudulent practices still receive billions of dollars in federal contracts, according to a new report by the Maryland PIRG Foundation.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Democracy

States Can Teach Congress About Ethics

The states are far ahead of Congress in establishing independent ethics enforcement for legislators according to a study released today by Maryland PIRG.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Democracy

Amid War and Scandal, Money Still a Top Predictor of Election Outcomes

Fundraising and campaign spending are proving once again to be incredibly accurate predictors of who wins elections according to an analysis of recent Federal Elections Commission (FEC) data for the 2006 congressional primaries released today by U.S. PIRG.

> Keep Reading

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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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