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

Supreme Court Strikes Down Arizona Law, Protects the Right to Vote

This week, the Supreme Court strengthened our democracy by striking down a burdensome Arizona law that required physical proof of citizenship for voter registration.

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Media Hit | Democracy

USA Today: Make companies disclose political spending

If the Supreme Court is intent on allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of shareholders' money on political causes, the least shareholders can expect is the information they need to raise a stink.

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Blog Post | Democracy

U.S. PIRG Mourns the Loss of Common Cause President Bob Edgar

The movement to create a more equal and participative democracy lost an inspirational and tireless leader this week.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG, PennPIRG | Democracy

PennPIRG to EQT: Elections Are Not for Shale

This morning, PennPIRG, PennEnvironment, Public Citizen, Keystone Progress, One Pittsburgh, Common Cause PA, University of Pittsburgh students and others held a press conference outside gas drilling company EQT’s annual shareholder meeting to call on it to end the practice of spending corporate money in elections.

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

"Billion-Dollar Democracy" The Unprecedented Impact of Big Money in 2012 Elections

It took just 32 billionaires and corporations giving Super PACs an average of $9.9 million apiece to match every single dollar given by small donors to Romney and Obama in the 2012 election cycle, according to “Billion-Dollar Democracy,” a new report by U.S. PIRG and Demos. Those small donations amounted to over $313 million from more than 3.7 million individuals.

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

U.S. PIRG, Coalition Partners Break Record for Comments to the SEC

A record number of people agree: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) should regulate corporate political spending.

As of today, more than 178,000 comments have flowed into the agency, thanks largely to the unique bedfellows in our Corporate Reform Coalition, which includes institutional investors managing a combined total of $800 billion in assets, as well as public officials, legal scholars, good government groups, environmental organizations and more. This is a huge milestone: We have set the all-time record for comments submitted to the SEC.

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

U.S. PIRG Calls on FEC to Allow Campaign Contributions via Text Message

On Monday, U.S. PIRG, along with nine other prominent government reform groups, submitted a comment on a request for an advisory opinion at the Federal Election Commission in support of the agency allowing small-donor campaign contributions via text message in time for the 2012 election.

“Allowing text message contributions could help engage first-time and young voters in the campaign finance system and promote small donor engagement to push back against the flood of big money we are already seeing in 2012,” commented Blair Bowie, U.S. PIRG Democracy Advocate.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Budget, Democracy, Tax

Release of New Report: Loopholes for Sale

A new report released Wednesday, March 21 by U.S. PIRG and Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) found that thirty unusually aggressive tax dodging corporations have made campaign contributions to 524 (98 percent) sitting members of Congress, and disproportionately to the leadership of both parties and to key committee members. The report, Loopholes for Sale: Campaign Contributions by Corporate Tax Dodgers, examines campaign contributions made by a total of 280 profitable Fortune 500 companies in 2006, 2008, 2010 and to date in 2012.

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Media Hit | Democracy

MSNBC: "Auctioning Democracy"

Host Chris Jansing and guests Rana Foroohar of Time Magazine, Ben White of Politico, and Richard Lui of MSNBC discuss U.S.PIRG and Demos's "fascinating" new report "Auctioning Democracy: the Rise of Super PACs and the 2012 election" on today's episode of Jansing & Co.

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

Release of New Report: Auctioning Democracy

This Wednesday, February 8, Demos and U.S. PIRG are holding a press call to release a new and comprehensive analysis of Federal Election Commission data on Super PACs, from their advent in 2010 through the end of 2011. This new report, “Auctioning Democracy: The Rise of Super PACs and the 2012 Election,” details FEC data findings, lays out actionable recommendations for all levels of government, and provides vivid new infographics (for use with attribution) that illustrate the damage dealt by Super PACs.

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