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

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
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
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
Blog Post | Democracy

Senator Paul Pinsky introduces Small Donor Empowerment Legislation | Emily Scarr

Today, the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on SB428,  a bill to establish a pilot program for small donor financing for state elections. The program is designed to encourage candidates to voluntarily reject large and corporate contributions by providing limited matching funds for small donations from their constituents. This serves the dual purpose of reducing corporate and mega donor campaign spending and re-engaging the community in the electoral process.

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Media Hit | Democracy

Payday lenders move online as regulators crack down

The banner ad atop the website features a wide-eyed baby cradled in an adult's hands with the words, "Did that special vacation for two end up producing a third? Castle Payday has life's unexpected expenses covered." On a growing number of sites like this one, short-term loans are just a click away for Web-surfing borrowers, regardless of any history of bankruptcy, bounced checks or other credit problems. The catch is that these so-called payday loans often come with sky-high interest rates of 400 percent or more. The Castle Payday website advertises an effective 888 annual percentage rate, meaning a 14-day loan of $500 will end up costing the borrower $675.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

“A Huge Step Forward for Voter Participation”

The House of Delegates today gave final approval to SB 279, which would expand early voting and allow same day voter registration at early voting centers.  If the Senate concurs with the House amendments the bill will move to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

Activists, Citizens, Lawmakers Come Together To Oppose Citizens United

Annapolis- Marylanders gathered today to voice their support for an amendment to over tune Citizens United, the controversial court decision that led to the rise of super PACs and unlimited independent political spending in our elections. Lawmakers and activists spoke out against the decision and its corrosive effect on democracy.Annapolis- Marylanders gathered today to voice their support for an amendment to over tune Citizens United, the controversial court decision that led to the rise of super PACs and unlimited independent political spending in our elections. Lawmakers and activists spoke out against the decision and its corrosive effect on democracy.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG and Demos | Democracy

New Report Shows Impact of Big Money in the 2012 Election

AnnapolisIt took just 32 billionaires and corporations, giving an average of $9.9 million apiece to Super PACs, to match every single dollar that small donors gave to the Romney and Obama campaigns, according to Billion Dollar Democracy, a new report by Maryland PIRG and Demos. Those small donations, which amounted to more than $313 million, came from more than 3.7 million individuals.

 

> Keep Reading
News Release | Maryland PIRG | Democracy

Distorted Democracy: Post-Election Edition

Our new analysis of data through Election Day from the Federal Election
Commission (FEC) and other sources shows how big outside spenders
drowned out small contributions in the 2012 election cycle: just 61
large donors to Super PACs giving on average $4.7 million each matched
the $285.1 million in grassroots contributions from more than 1,425,500
small donors to the major party presidential candidates.

> Keep Reading

Pages

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.

Blog Post

Our testimony on HB1017, a bill to establish small donor public financing for general assembly races. It's time to bring this program to the state level.

Blog Post

Our testimony on the bill to allow eligible voters to register to vote, update their registration, and vote on Election Day.

Blog Post

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

Blog Post

On Tuesday, voters approved 3 ballot questions backed by Maryland PIRG, each playing an important roll in strengthening our democracy.

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