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

Who’s Funding Elections for Governor in Maryland?

Baltimore - A report released today by Maryland PIRG Foundation finds that the people and entities that donate to Maryland’s Gubernatorial campaigns are not reflective of Marylanders who are eligible to vote in these elections. The report finds that the money raised comes primarily from out of state or non individuals who contribute disproportionately large sums of money.

> Keep Reading
Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Democracy

Big Money in Maryland Elections

In Maryland’s gubernatorial elections, the people and companies that donate to campaigns are not reflective of the Marylanders who vote in these elections. On average, donors make large contributions that most Marylanders can’t afford, only a small percentage of the population is making contributions, and the majority of money comes from donors who aren’t eligible to vote in these elections. 

> 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
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
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

Pages

News Release | Democracy

Maryland Senate and House Pass Strong Voter Registrations Reforms

“In conjunction, these bills work to streamline our voter registration process so more Marylanders can exercise their right to vote,” explained Senator Will Smith, the lead sponsor of SB1048 and a cosponsor of Election Day Registration.

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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.

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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.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
Report | Common Cause | Consumer Protection, Democracy

TOXIC SPENDING

Since passage of the Toxic Substances Control Act in 1976, the debate over disclosing and reducing the risks that certain chemicals pose to human health and the environment has been dominated by two important trends. First is the growing body of evidence that certain chemicals are harmful to human health, and the growing number of chemicals in daily use whose effects on human health have not been fully studied.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Demos | Democracy

Million-Dollar Megaphones

Outside spending by organizations that aggregate unlimited contributions from wealthy individuals and institutions is playing a significant role in the 2012 election cycle, and much of it is not disclosed.

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Blog Post | Democracy

Student Voter Empowerment Act | Rishi Shah

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.

> 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
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

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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