Reclaiming Our Democracy

In 2012, Super PACs grew drastically, and they exemplify the strengthened grasp big money has on our elections: Just 47 individuals, donating $1 million or more, were responsible for more than half the individual contributions to Super PACs — and only 6 percent came from donations under $10,000.

GET BIG MONEY OUT OF OUR ELECTIONS

Special interest money has long had a corrosive effect on our politics, but in 2010, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision unleashed a new era of unprecedented spending by a handful of millionaires and corporations on our elections.

Since, then we've seen so-called “uncoordinated” outside campaign financiers on track to spend in 2012 over three-times more than in the record-breaking 2008 election. This wave of outside cash threatens to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens in our democracy.

We still don’t, and may never, know the specific interests behind this growing trend, but we know how to fight back: by building the case — one community, one state, even one corporation at a time — for overturning the entirety of the Citizens United decision through a constitutional amendment.

In the meantime, we're also working on several short-term strategies to stanch the flow of big money in our elections.

• Taking the fight directly to corporate political donors (and would-be donors)

We’re partnering with shareholder advocacy groups in pressing corporations such as Target and Bank of America to refrain from spending on political campaigns, and we’re also supporting the Shareholder Protection Act, a bill that would require corporations to seek the explicit approval of shareholders before spending a dime in electoral politics.

• Forcing political spending into the light of day

Our researchers have documented the rise of Super PACs and other groups funneling secret money into our elections, exposing some of the funding sources for these campaign finance behemoths, but we're also prodding our state and federal lawmakers to implement more thorough disclosure laws.

• Amplifying the power of small donors

Encouraging millions of everyday Americans to small contributions can help counterbalance the influence of special interests in our elections. We are working with federal and state legislators to implement programs like tax credits, campaign vouchers, and matching public funds to create a swell of grassroots funding.

Ultimately, we must amend the Constitution to clarify to the Court that our democratic elections were never intended as a tool for special interests to drown out the voices of others. Hawaii, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maryland, New Mexico, Montana, California, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey have gone on record taking a stand against Citizens United, and so have 300-plus communities across the country. But there is more work to be done, more doors to knock on, and more communities to organize to boldly force big money out of our elections.

Issue updates

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 | Democracy

U.S. PIRG and 38 others Call for Support of the Shareholder Protection Act

If the Supreme Court is going to say that corporations are people, a proposition with which we completely disagree, then let's at least allow the real people who invest in the corporations to decide whether or not they can spend money on elections.

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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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Report | PennPIRG, PennEnvironment | Democracy

Elections for Shale

Fracking corporation EQT and the rest of the industry spend millions on electoral politics at the state and federal level, elevating their interests and making it more difficult for ordinary citizens to have their voices heard. Concurrently, the industry exploits loopholes to pay extremely low taxes, receives thousands of permits to drill on public lands, and is exempted from many basic environmental standards.

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

One Hundred Years of Secrets and Lies

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce should disclose the corporate donors behind its electoral advertising, U.S. PIRG, Public Citizen, Business Ethics Network, small business representatives and others said at a press conference today. The groups gathered in Lafayette Square, between the White House and U.S. Chamber headquarters. After the media event, they delivered over 30,000 petitions to the Chamber calling on it to shed light on the funders behind the millions of dollars worth of political ads the Chamber has purchased throughout the country.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

New Jersey Legislature Formally Calls for a Democracy Amendment

Today, New Jersey became the ninth state to officially go on record in favor of a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and get big money out of our elections.

The passing of New Jersey’s resolution moves us one step closer towards correcting the Court’s disastrous misinterpretation of the first amendment and to ensuring that the voices of ordinary citizens aren’t drowned out by special interests.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

Press Conference: Celebrating 100 Years of Secrets and Lies

One of the biggest post-Citizens United dark money spenders in this year's election is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Despite trying to pass itself off as representing mom-and-pop small businesses, the U.S. Chamber's corporate funding has enabled it to become the second biggest outside spender to date and to pledge to spend up to $100 million in races across the country. Yet the U.S. Chamber will not disclose to the electorate the sources of its funding, denying citizens the opportunity to judge the credibility of its messaging. The U.S. Chamber exemplifies the unaccountable secret spending of the post-Citizens United landscape.

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News Release | Florida PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Florida Victory For Young People

Civic groups and Florida voters won a huge victory when a federal judge indicated he will permanently remove some of the most restrictive parts of Florida’s new voter registration laws, which have made it harder for student governments and civic groups to help register young people to vote. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

New Report Details Latest Numbers on Outside Spending, Secret Money and Super PAC Fundraising for 2012 Elections

The Top 5 “dark money” spenders on presidential election ads have reported less than 1% of their spending to the FEC, which is all that is required by the agency’s insufficient standards, according to a new report analyzing the latest campaign filings.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Look Who's Not Coming to Washington 2002

Large contributions made by a small fraction of Americans unduly influence who can run for office and who wins elections in the United States. Without personal wealth or access to networks of wealthy contributors, many qualified and credible candidates are locked out of contention for federal office— often before voters have the opportunity to register their preferences.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

The Best Elections Money Can Buy

One of American democracy’s most pressing problems is that large contributions—which only a fraction of the American public can afford to make—unduly influence who can run for office and who wins elections in the United States. In 2000, 94 percent of the candidates who raised the most money won their general election contests.1 In the 2002 congressional primaries, 90 percent of the biggest fundraisers emerged victorious.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

The Wealth Primary 2002

Our analysis of Federal Election Commission (FEC) campaign finance data for the 2002 election cycle indicates that money played a key role in determining election outcomes and that the majority of campaign contributions came from a small number of large donors (many of whom reside out-of-state).

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Contribution Limits And Competitiveness

For years, academics, political theorists, and campaign finance reformers have debated the causal relationship between campaign contribution limits and the outcome of elections. Some argue that limiting campaign contributions amounts to "incumbent protection;" others contend that limits make challengers more competitive. This study is the first of its kind to comprehensively examine the states with contribution limits and empirically measure changes in competitiveness.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

The Lobbyist's Last Laugh

Despite giving almost a quarter of a million dollars to candidates, Political Action Committees (PACs) and parties in the last election cycle, K Street did not mount a campaign against the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill as it went to the floor of the Senate earlier this year. The reason lies in the fine print of the bill.

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You Can Help

We have a chance to curb the unprecedented spending by big money in our elections. Your support will help us do the research, advocacy and grassroots organizing to convince our elected officials to act.

JOIN THE CALL

Already 300-plus communities and seven states have gone on record calling for a constitutional amendment. Make sure you town has joined the call to stanch the flow of special interest money in our elections.

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