News Release


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

For Immediate Release

College Park — 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.

“We had a packed house today because Maryland students understand the undue influence of mega-donors and special interests on our elections, and want to hear how they can be involved in passing reforms,” said Andrea Holtermann, the Maryland PIRG Democracy Campaign Co-Chair and UMD sophomore who organized the event. “Already, Montgomery County has established policy to amplify the voices of small donors, and we’re hoping more counties and the federal government follow suit.”

The primary reform discussed was the Government by the People Act, a bill in Congress which would encourage more Americans to participate in the process by providing a $25 refundable tax credit for small donations, and would then match those small contributions with limited public funds, allowing grassroots candidates relying on small donors to compete with big money candidates.

Congressmen John Sarbanes (MD3), lead sponsor of the Government By the People Act said, “We need to break Congress’ reliance on big-money donors so that we can return to a government by the people. The Government By the People Act does just that, providing Americans – and the candidates they support – with the tools and resources necessary to run a competitive campaign without relying on contributions from the wealthy and well-connected. Liberated from the seemingly endless chase for big-dollar donations and special-interest contributions, Congress would better channel the will of the American people.”

This type of program has already proven effective. For example, in New York City’s 2013 City Council races, once matching funds were factored in, candidates participating in the program raised more than 60 percent of their funds from small donors. By contrast, candidates who did not participate in the program raised just 19 percent of their funds from small donors. 

And in fall of 2014, Montgomery County Maryland became the first Maryland community to establish a local small donor matching program. Councilmember Phil Andrews was the lead sponsor of that bill.

“There are a range of solutions within reach to curb the corrosive effects of big money on our democracy. The Government by the People Act would shift the balance of power in our elections away from big money by increasing the clout of small donors, and encouraging more Americans to participate in the process, said Dan Smith, U.S. PIRG’s Democracy Campaign Director. “Citizens United unleashed a flood of big money in our elections, but it also sparked a citizens movement across the country that is only growing as Americans begin to realize that their voices are being drowned out by megadonors and special interests.”

This discussion comes as the president considers issuing an executive order requiring all government contractors to disclose their political spending. This is a step toward reform that the president has the authority to act on, right now.

“The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United opened the floodgates to secret special interest spending in American elections, and the surge of this money only continues to grow,” said Congressman Chris Van Hollen. “People in Maryland and across the country deserve a political system that is fair, transparent, and accountable – they have a right to know who is trying to buy our elections.  I’m fighting hard – both in Congress and in the federal courts – to restore the integrity of our democracy.”

"The Supreme Court was wrong to allow unlimited corporate money into politics,” said Holtermann. “But while that is allowed, companies—especially those that get taxpayer dollars—should be transparent with their political spending.

“As we are bombarded with overwhelming figures of money spent by a handful of mega-donors, we must keep in mind that there are solutions available. We’re building support for reforms that curb the influence of big money by empowering average citizens, here in Maryland and across the country.”

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Maryland PIRG Student Chapters is a statewide, student funded, student directed non-partisan public interest advocacy organization. We give students the skills and opportunity to practice effective citizenship on issues like good government, environmental protection, consumer protection, and hunger and homelessness.

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