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

News Release | US PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

“Elections Confidential” Report Reveals Role of Dark Money Groups and Shell Corporations in 2012

Mystery donors poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the 2012 elections via dark money non-profit groups and shell corporations, despite widespread public support for disclosure and decades of legal precedent supporting the public’s right to know the sources of election-related spending. A new report from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Center for Media and Democracy found that contributions from phony for-profit corporations accounted for nearly 17 percent of all business donations to Super PACs.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Elections Confidential

“Elections Confidential” describes how secret donors poured hundreds of millions into the 2012 election through social-welfare groups that are really political vehicles and via shell corporations formed as conduits to hide a funder’s identity. The first post-Citizens United presidential election cycle was bought and paid for by a handful of wealthy donors, but the corrosive influence of money in politics was amplified by the fact that we don’t know who – or what – actually provided much of the funding.

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

Billion-Dollar Democracy

The first presidential election since Citizens United lived up to its hype, with unprecedented outside spending from new sources making headlines.

Demos and U.S. PIRG analysis of reports from campaigns, parties, and outside spenders to the Federal Election Commission found that our big money system distorts democracy and creates clear winners and losers.

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

When Schapiro Steps Down, SEC Should Step Up on Political Spending Disclosure

As Chairwoman Mary Schapiro ends her term at the Securities and Exchange Commission, U.S. PIRG urges President Obama to appoint a chairperson who will prioritize rulemaking that would bring post-Citizens United “dark money” corporate political spending into the light.

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

New Analysis: Tiny Number of Wealthy Contributors Match Millions of Small Donors, Will Continue to Set Agenda In Washington

A new analysis of data through Election Day from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and other sources by U.S. PIRG and Demos shows that just 61 large donors to Super PACs giving an average of $4.7 million each matched the $285.2 million in grassroots contributions from more than 1,425,500 small donors to the two major-party presidential candidates.

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News Release | Corporate Reform Coalition, U.S. PIRG | Democracy

New Report: Sunlight State by State After Citizens United

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts from their treasuries to influence elections, states have passed a variety of innovative measures to regulate corporate cash in elections, a new report by the Corporate Reform Coalition shows.

The report, “Sunlight State by State After Citizens United,” details the steps, legislative and otherwise, that each state took to respond to the Citizens United decision and grades them on transparency in spending. It also points to a need for more sweeping federal reform.

 

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

First-of-its-kind “Refrain From Political Spending” Resolution to Be Voted on at Bank of America Shareholder Meeting Wednesday

On Wednesday, May 9, shareholders at Bank of America will vote “yea” or “nay” on a first-of-its-kind “refrain from political spending” resolution. Resolutions addressing political spending are among the most popular in the 2012 shareholder season, many dealing with disclosure of such spending. This is the first shareholder season for this groundbreaking resolution which was introduced by socially responsible investment firms Trillium Asset Management at Bank of America and 3M Corporation and by Green Century Capital Management at Target Corporation.

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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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Report | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

Dirty Dollars, Dirty Air

This report documents the influence of the auto and oil industry on public policy and debates surrounding the control of pollution that causes smog, soot and global warming. It tracks the amount of campaign contributions made by the 164 largest companies in the automobile and oil industries and how those contributions influenced members of Congress on clean air issues.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Pushing The Limit

At least five proposals to increase limits on contributions by individuals to congressional candidates -- either as stand-alone measures or as part of a package of campaign finance measures -- have been floated by important political groups and individuals in the past year. The following paper analyzes the likely impact of these proposals on which candidates get elected and on the power of wealthy interests vs. the general public in governmental decision making.

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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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