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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Pages

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

Howard County Council Introduces Program for Citizen Funded Elections

Columbia, MD – On Thursday, Howard County Councilmembers Jon Weinstein and Jen Terrasa filed a bill, Council Bill 30, to create a new way to fund County Council and County Executive races with a small donor matching program. This move comes after voters approved a charter amendment in November to establish the Citizens’ Election Fund.

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

Montgomery County Executive Leggett Funds Fair Elections Program as Candidates Line up to Participate

Montgomery County Executive released his FY18 budget on Tuesday, which included $4 million for the Public Campaign fund. This critical investment brings the total funding for the program to $10 million, falling just short of the $11 million recommended by the independent commission established to make funding recommendations.

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Report | Budget, Democracy

Representation Without Taxation

Marking the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case, this report takes a hard look at the lobbying activities of profitable Fortune 500 companies that exploit loopholes and distort the tax code to avoid billions of dollars in taxes.

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Report | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

Honest Enforcement

Some argue that last year’s scandals, which led to the conviction of two congressmen and several top aides, are evidence that ethics enforcement in Congress works. The actual facts leading up to the convictions, however, are more an indictment of the current process than a testament to its success.

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Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Budget, Democracy, Financial Reform

Forgiving Fraud and Failure

Companies with immediate past histories of shoddy work and fraudulent practices are being rewarded with billions of dollars in federal contracts. The data suggest that the process by which the federal government currently spends $422 billion per year in taxpayer funds is insufficient to ensure that the American people receive good quality for goods and services purchased for the American people.

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Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Democracy

The Wealth Primary

Despite the recent corruption scandals in Washington DC, the most significant problem with money in politics is that large contributions, which only a fraction of the American public can afford to make, unduly influence who runs for office and who wins elections in the United States.

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Blog Post | Public Health, Democracy

2019 Legislative Priorities | Emily Scarr

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

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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.

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Blog Post | Democracy

Third Maryland county set to limit big money's influence in elections

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

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Blog Post | Democracy

Voters Get A Voice On Big Money: Baltimore Voters To Decide On Publicly Funded Elections

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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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

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.

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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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