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

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.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Hi, I'm Kyanna

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

> Keep Reading
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.

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News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

As Early Voting Begins in Maryland, Howard County Voters Have Chance To Improve Democracy By Voting Yes For Question A

With the growing public concern over big money in politics, Howard County voters will have a chance to institute an innovative citizen funded election program to help bring balance to local government and the democratic process. If approved, Question A will amend the Howard County Charter and enable the County Council to establish the Citizens’ Election Fund, a small donor campaign finance system for County Council and County Executive races.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Democracy

Grassroots Coalition Launches Campaign for Yes on Question A in Howard County

A packed crowd gathered last night at Kelsey’s Restaurant in Ellicott City to officially launch “Yes on A! For the Citizens Election Fund.” The campaign is building support for ballot question A, which would establish a Citizens’ Election Fund to create a small donor empowerment program for Howard County elections.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG and Fair Elections Maryland | Democracy

Montgomery County Increases Investment in Groundbreaking Fair Elections Program

(Rockville) – Today the Montgomery County Council made a critical investment in democracy by adding $5 million to its public election fund in its FY2017 budget. While this amount is only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the County’s overall budget, it represents a real commitment to amplifying the voices of small donors in county politics and diluting the influence of wealthy special interests. With adequate funding, the program will be up and running for the next county elections, encouraging more voters to participate in county elections and providing opportunities for a wider range of candidates to run for office.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Democracy

Howard County Council Passes Resolution for Citizens’ Election Fund

Ellicott City – The Howard County Council took a big step forward today towards establishing a small donor incentive program for county elections. The Council voted 4-1 to pass a resolution to amend the County Charter to establish a citizens’ election fund. Now, Howard County voters will vote to authorize the fund through a ballot initiative in November.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG and Fair Elections Maryland | Democracy

Howard County Councilmembers Introduce Fair Elections Bill

Ellicott City – Howard County Councilmembers Jon Weinstein and Jen Terrasa took a significant step forward today for increasing citizen engagement in elections by introducing legislation to establish a small donor incentive system for county races. If passed by the Council, Howard County voters will vote to authorize “citizen funded campaigns” through a ballot initiative in November.

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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 | 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. 

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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 | Democracy

Ensuring all eligible voters can vote on Election Day | Emily Scarr

Maryland PIRG strongly supports SB594/HB532. A functioning democracy depends on the participation of its citizens. Every American – Republican, Democrat, Independent – has a fundamental right to vote and have their voted counted. Our Democracy works best when everybody makes his or her voice heard on Election Day. Voting also serves as a building block to more active involvement in civic life. 

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Blog Post | Democracy

Support: The Secure and Accessible Registration Act | Emily Scarr

Maryland PIRG is pleased to support The Secure and Accessible Registration Act (SB1048/HB152), sponsored by Senator Smith and Delegate Luedtke.

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Blog Post

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.

Blog Post

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.

Blog Post

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!

Blog Post

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.

News Release | Maryland PIRG

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

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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