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

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. 

> Keep Reading
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.

> 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 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
Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation and Common Cause Maryland | Democracy

Fair Elections in Montgomery County

This report analyzes the fundraising data released after the first reporting deadline for candidates in the 2018 Montgomery County elections. Candidates participating in the small donor matching program are raising money from more individual people than those who are not participating. Our review of the data concludes that:

> Keep Reading

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News Release | Fair Elections Maryland Coalition | Democracy

Montgomery County Funds Groundbreaking Fair Elections Program

(Rockville) - The Montgomery County Council took an important step forward for fair elections in its FY16 budget by seeding the Public Campaign fund with a $1 million.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

Key MoCo Committee Funds Groundbreaking Fair Elections Program

(Rockville) - The Montgomery County Council held public hearings this week on the proposed FY16 budget. Concerned citizens testified at each hearing, calling on the County Council to put $2 million into the budget to fund fair elections (Public Election Fund).

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG Foundation | Democracy

Congressmen Sarbanes, Van Hollen join Maryland PIRG and students at roundtable discussion on solutions to big money in elections

Maryland PIRG, joined today by Congressman Chris Van Hollen (MD8) Congressman John Sarbanes (MD3), former Montgomery County Councilman Phil Andrews, University of Maryland Government and Politics professor Michael Spivey, and U.S. PIRG Democracy Campaign Director Dan Smith and a crowd of students gathered at the University of Maryland to participate in a roundtable discussion about the problem of big money in politics, the available solutions, and what we can do here in Maryland to fix it.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

MaryPIRG Discussion on Money in Politics with Rep. Chris Van Hollen (MD8) and Rep. John Sarbanes (MD3)

UMD MaryPIRG will host a panel discussion on money in politics and small donor campaign financing. The event will kick off with a panel and discussion followed by a screening of John Ennis’ film, Pay 2 Play, which looks into the effects of dark money influence on American politics.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

National Groups and Investors Urge Maryland Legislature to Support Shareholders United Bill

Today, Maryland PIRG’s federal office, U.S. PIRG, joined a diverse group of twenty national advocacy organizations and investors calling on the Maryland General Assembly to support of the Shareholders United bill.

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Blog Post | Democracy

Introducing the Government By the People Act | Emily Scarr

Today, Rep. John Sarbanes introduced the Government by the People Act, a small donor empowerment bill aimed at providing an equal voice to everyday voters currently drowned out by super PACs and wealthy contributors.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Testimony on SB 64 – Voter Registration - Affiliating With a Party | Emily Scarr

Common Cause Maryland, Maryland PIRG, and the ACLU of Maryland support SB 64 which would allow unaffiliated, registered voters to change their registration to a party during early voting period.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Montgomery County boldly supports fair elections | Emily Scarr

The Montgomery and Howard County Councils are boldly moving forward on a new way to fund elections.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Maryland Counties move towards small donor democracy | Emily Scarr

Yesterday, two Maryland Counties made significant progress in their efforts to put citizens back in the drivers seat of their democracy.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Maryland Senate Committee Considers Universal Voter Registration | Emily Scarr

Today, a Maryland Senate Committee is holding a hearing on Universal Voter Registration. Maryland PIRG student leader Cassidy is Annapolis to testify, and here is our written testimony.

> Keep Reading

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Report | U.S. PIRG

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.

Blog Post

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.

News Release | Maryland PIRG Foundation

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.

Report | Maryland PIRG Foundation

This report analyzes the fundraising data from the 2018 county elections, the first election in Maryland to use a small donor matching system. Overall, the small donor matching system was largely successful in achieving its stated goals

Blog Post

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.

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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