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

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 | 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.

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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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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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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.

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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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News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

Maryland PIRG Applauds Reintroduction of Reform Legislation on the Fifth Anniversary of Citizens United

“On the fifth anniversary of the wrong-headed Citizens United decision, the need to get big money out of our elections couldn’t be greater. Maryland PIRG applauds the reintroduction of critical reform legislation by over a dozen leaders in Congress today, including the Democracy for All Amendment, introduced by Senator Tom Udall, and the Government by the People Act, introduced by Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes.

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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.

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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.

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Blog Post | Democracy

Call your representative and senators every day. Here's how. | Andre Delattre

There’s a lot unfolding in Washington, D.C., right now, and you may be wondering: “What can I do to voice my concerns?”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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