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When we hear about the influence of money in politics, we often hear about it at the presidential level. Clinton accepted a donation from Y, or Trump’s top contributor said X. And there’s good reason for that: mega-donors are in the driver’s seat when it comes to presidential fundraising.
But when it comes to money in politics, that’s not the whole picture. It’s not even close.
Big money has infiltrated every level of politics in the United States, from the presidential race all the way down to local school board elections. And here’s the kicker: it’s even worse at the congressional level than it is in our presidential contest.
Our analysis uses data filed by candidate campaigns with the Federal Election Commission. Small donations are contributions under $200 to a candidate campaign. Data reflects FEC filings as of Sept. 23, 2016.
Just take a look at where congressional candidates in your state are raising funds. On average, our congressional candidates have raised only 8.4 percent of their funds from small donors so far this election cycle. And in some states congressional candidates have raised less than two percent of campaign money from small contributors, the rest coming from large donors, special interest PACs and big loans.
That’s not how democracy is supposed to work. In a year where the American public rates money in politics as one of the top five most important issues, our lawmakers should be enacting reforms to limit the influence of big money and empower small donors.
The good news is we can do better. Across the country, states and cities have enacted citizen-funded election programs that incentivize candidates to look for small contributions over mega-donor and special interest funding. These programs aim to build a government truly of, by and for the people, and in many areas they’ve seen big success.
Take New York City. For years they’ve had a small donor empowerment system that matches small donations with limited public funds.
The result? In 2013, candidates participating in New York City’s small donor empowerment program received 61 percent of their campaign money from small contributors. At the congressional level, that would be a massive turnaround from what we’ve seen this year.
Right now, thousands of voters across the country are speaking up for small donor empowerment reforms. U.S. PIRG, together with state affiliates and a coalition of democracy-minded organizations, has started a petition urging lawmakers to support a national small donor empowerment program, an amendment to overturn Citizens United, and legislation that would restore full voter protections.
But if we want these reforms to pass, we need your voice. Our senators are deciding right now whether to support the Fair Elections Now Act, and they need to hear from you.
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