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

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

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.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Testimony on Banning Corporate Campaign Contribution HB0376 | Emily Scarr

It is time for Maryland to ban corporate contributions to campaigns. There are twenty two states that prohibit corporations from contributing to political campaigns.  Unfortunately, Maryland is not yet one of them.
Corporations are given special power to amass money for economic purposes. Corporate treasury funds do not represent public support for the corporation's political ideas; it is therefore inappropriate to use these funds to influence public policy.

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News Release | Fair Elections Maryland Coalition | Democracy

Key Montgomery County Committee Advances Bill for Fair Elections Campaign Finance Reform

Rockville, MD – The Montgomery County Government Operations Committee today took a huge step forward for fair elections by passing Bill 16-14, which creates a program for county council and executive campaigns that would fight big money interests by empowering small donors in County elections.

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News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

Statement on today’s Senate vote on the constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United

“Today’s vote was an incredible milestone in the fight to reclaim our democracy. The Citizens United decision unleashed a tide of big money from mega-donors and super PACs into our elections, which has threatened to drown out the voices of ordinary Americans.

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Media Hit | Democracy

Money & Politics

How will recent campaign finance rulings by the Supreme Court and by the Maryland Board of Elections affect the governor’s race and other state campaigns? How do Maryland campaign finance laws compare to those of other states? Our guests: Andy Kroll, senior reporter for Mother Jones; Bruce Marcus, chair of the bipartisan state commission that looked at Maryland’s campaign finance structure; and Emily Scarr, director of Maryland’s Public Interest Research Group.

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Media Hit | Democracy

Supreme Court Gets It Wrong (again) On Campaign Finance

The court's decision to eliminate federal limits on the total amount of money that mega-donors can contribute during an election cycle empowers a tiny group of fewer than 3,000 elite donors to spend an additional billion dollars in our elections through 2020.

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News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

TODAY SUPREME COURT RULED FOR ANOTHER FLOOD OF BIG MONEY

Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in McCutcheon v. FEC to strike down overall, or aggregate, contribution limits to candidates and political committees. Maryland PIRG research found that this ruling could bring $1 billion in additional campaign contributions from fewer than 2,800 elite donors through the 2020 election cycle.

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Blog Post | Democracy

Maryland PIRG 2013 Testimony: Election Day Registration | Jenny Levin

Election Day registration has potential to increase voter turnout across the board.

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Blog Post | Democracy

Maryland PIRG 2013 Testimony: Voter ID | Jenny Levin

Voter ID would exacerbate low voter turnout, a major problem confronting our democracy.

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Blog Post | Democracy

Maryland PIRG 2013 Testimony: Shareholder Approval | Jenny Levin

SB 772 requires that corporations and businesses operating in Maryland provide an opportunity for their shareholders to vote on any political spending by the company.

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Blog Post | Democracy

Maryland PIRG 2013 Testimony: HB 1499 | Jenny Levin

Maryland PIRG supports passage of HB 1499, which includes important reforms to increase transparency in campaign finance, close loopholes that allow big donors and corporations outsized influence in politics, and enables local governments to introduce public financing of elections.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Voting Rights Take Center Stage at the General Assembly | Laura Muth

Last week was a big week in Maryland politics. One of Maryland PIRG’s top priorities, same-day voter registration (SDR), got plenty of airtime. We worked with a broad coalition of partners to provide testimony on a bill introduced by the governor that aims to expand voting rights by letting eligible Marylanders to register to vote at polling places during the early voting period, as well as increasing the number of early voting days to eight and increasing the number of polling places during early voting.

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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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