Democracy For The People

U.S. PIRG Education Fund is pushing back against big money in our elections and working to educate the public about the benefits 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: 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 giving 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. 

It's time to reclaim our democracy and bring it back to the principle of one person, one vote. 

RECLAIMING OUR DEMOCRACY

Small donor empowerment programs that encourage the participation of the average American in the political system are a key weapon in the fight to reclaim our democracy. These programs provide public matching funds to campaigns for small donations and offer tax credits to encourage everyday citizens to make small campaign contributions.  

These programs can help focus candidates for office on seeking the broad support of the public rather than the narrow support of a few moneyed interests and help bring more ordinary citizens into the process. Their track record is impressive – for example, under New York City’s program, in 2013 participating City Council candidates got 61% of their contributions from small donations and matching funds, and in 2011, all but two winning city councilors used matching funds. If enacted nationally, a similar program could fundamentally shift the balance of power in our elections from mega-donors, back to ordinary citizens.

That’s why we’re working with our national coalition to educate citizens about the solutions that we can act on now to amplify their voices above the voices of megadonors and special interests. By assembling a broad coalition of support, educating and mobilizing citizens and digging deep into the impact of big money in our elections with our reports, we’re bringing democracy back to the people.

Together, we can win real changes now in how elections are funded throughout America — so more candidates for more offices focus on we, the people, instead of we, the megadonors.

 

Issue updates

Blog Post | Democracy

Shell companies are hijacking our democracy | Jeremy Flood

Anonymous shell companies are funnelling "dark money" into Super PACs at an alarming rate. The public has a right to know who is financing our elections.  

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Empowering Small Donors in DC Elections

This report examines how a small donor matching program would have reshaped the fundraising of competitive candidates for DC Council, Mayor, and Attorney General during their most recent campaigns.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

In ID, KY, OR, Big Money Continues to Win Congressional Primaries

83% higher fundraising candidates win congressional primaries in 2016 elections

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

ADVISORY: Congressional Money Report to Highlight KY, ID, OR Races

On Wednesday, May 18, U.S. PIRG Education Fund will release an update to its report on the success of big-money candidates in congressional primaries.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

Big Money Continues to Sweep Congressional Primaries in MD, PA

On Tuesday, candidates in Maryland and Pennsylvania competed in some of the most expensive congressional primaries yet this election cycle.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

Small donor program reshapes presidential fundraising, new report shows

Candidates in the 2016 presidential race would see a dramatic shift in fundraising success under a proposed small donor matching program, according to a new study by U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

New Study: Small Donor Matching Program Would Incentivize Shift in 2016 Presidential Fundraising Strategies

Candidates in the 2016 presidential race could see a dramatic shift in fundraising under a small donor empowerment program, according to a new study by U.S. PIRG Education Fund

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

New study shows potential impact of a small donor matching program on 2016 presidential race

Candidates in the 2016 presidential race would see a dramatic shift in their fundraising, and have a powerful incentive to focus more on small donors under a proposed small donor public financing system, according to a new study released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund (U.S. PIRG).

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy, Financial Reform

Citi shareholders gathered in NY demand lobbying disclosure

 

NEW YORK, NY - Citigroup shareholders gathered today in New York City for their annual meeting and outrage over Citi’s role in the financial crisis was still palpable in the room.  A major topic of interest was a shareholder proposal that would require the company to disclose its lobbying expenditures to its investors, one of over 100 resolutions on political activity filed this season.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

At Spring Shareholder Meetings, Investors Call for Increased Transparency of Corporate Lobbying and Election Spending

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At more than 100 annual meetings this spring, shareholders will ratchet up the pressure on corporations to disclose information about corporate lobbying and electioneering expenditures so investors can make informed investment choices. Shareholders hope their efforts will not only push these companies to adopt individual disclosure procedures, but also will push the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to protect all investors with a commonsense rule that requires disclosure of political expenditures by all public corporations.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Demos | Democracy

Business Contributions to Super PACs

Contrary to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, for-profit businesses should not be permitted to spend treasury funds to influence elections. First, most businesses are constrained to participate only to maximize private profit, rather than out of regard for the public good. More important, this spending undermines political equality by allowing wealthy institutions to translate economic success into political power.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Auctioning Democracy

A new report by U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Demos shows an analysis of the funding sources for the campaign finance behemoths, Super PACs. The findings confirmed what many have predicted in the wake of the Supreme Court’s damaging Citizens United decision: since their inception in 2010, Super PACs have been primarily funded by a small segment of very wealthy individuals and business interests, with a small but significant amount of funds coming from secret sources.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy, Tax

Representation Without Taxation

Marking the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case – which opened the floodgates to corporate spending on elections – this report takes a hard look at the lobbying activities of profitable Fortune 500 companies that exploit loopholes and work to distort the tax code to avoid billions of dollars in taxes.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Saving Dollars, Saving Democracy

A more streamlined and automatic system linking existing databases with the state voter rolls could free up significant resources at the local level.  Thanks to the Help America Vote Act, we have already seen technological change in the initial creation of the mandated state database voter rolls.  By creating a more automatic system, the majority of the cost burden currently facing election officials due to registration could be eliminated.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Vanishing Voters

Fifteen years after enactment of the NVRA, many states continue to appear unaware of the federal rules regarding voter roll purges. A survey of state laws and election officials shows that, on the eve of the 2008 general election, many voters across the country do not appear to enjoy the important voter protection provisions afforded by the NVRA.

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