Democracy For The People

U.S. PIRG is pushing back against big money in our elections and working to institute a system 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: Call it 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.


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 Money Chase, on 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 — donors who each gave 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. 

Taking Back Our Democracy

It’s time to reclaim our elections. That's why U.S. PIRG has launched our Democracy For The People campaign.

Our campaign seeks to overturn the Citizens United decision. We want to pass an amendment to our Constitution declaring that corporations are not people, money is not speech, and our elections are not for sale. To do so, we’re going state-by-state, city-by-city to build the support its going to take to win. We’ve already helped get 16 states and nearly 600 cities, counties and towns to formally tell Congress that the Constitution must be amended. Getting this across the finish line won’t be easy, but it’s what’s necessary to reclaim our democracy.

In the meantime, we're working to amplify the voices of ordinary people in our elections. So we're also working to create systems of incentives and matching funds for small contributions — systems that are already in place in some cities and counties.  

Amplifying The Voices Of Small Donors

We’re building support for the Government By the People Act, a bill in Congress which will help bring more small donors into our elections, and increase their impact. Here’s how:

  • Government By the People Act encourages more people to participate by giving small donors a $25 credit on their taxes.
  • The Act increases the impact of small donations by creating a fund that will match those donations at least 6-to-1 if a candidate agrees to forego large contributions.

It’s possible to enact programs like this, in fact there was a similar federal tax credit in place from 1971 to 1986.  And more recently, cities like New York have passed small donor programs and seen real results. For example, in the 2013 New York City Council races small donors were responsible for 61 percent of the participating candidates’ contributions (once matching funds were factored in), making small donors the largest source of campaign cash. Their big-money opponents got only 19 percent of their contributions from small donors.

We need more success stories like these if we are going to build momentum for change. That’s why we’re working with cities and towns across the country to establish small donor incentive programs of their own.

With your help, we can win real changes now in how elections are funded throughout America — so more candidates for more offices focus on we, the people, and not just the mega-donors and Super PACs who are undermining our democracy and the principles upon which it stands.

Photos by Johnathan Comer, Flickr User: Joe Shlabotnik - Creative Commons, and Stefan Klapko Photography.

Issue updates

News Release | U.S. PIRG | COVID-19, Democracy

This week in COVID-19 voting news

U.S. PIRG and its state affiliates are working to make sure that every eligible American voter has the ability to participate in democracy, even during a pandemic. We’re calling on states to start preparing now to ensure safe elections in November, including emergency expansion of vote by mail, sanitized and socially distant polling places and other measures.This weekly update highlights the work we’re doing on the COVID-19 voting front, and other important developments in the news.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | COVID-19, Democracy

Statement: USPS decision to suspend service changes is a start

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced Tuesday that he is suspending operational changes he’d made to the United States Postal Service (USPS) until after the November presidential election. The recently implemented changes were designed to cut costs but have caused delays to mail service in many parts of the country. This development raised concerns that the USPS would not be able to deliver critical election mail on time.  In the statement, DeJoy also pledged that USPS retail hours will not change; mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes will remain where they are; and no mail processing facilities will be closed. However, he did not commit to reinstating previously made cuts to services.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | COVID-19, Democracy

This week in COVID-19 voting news

U.S. PIRG and its state affiliates are working to make sure that every eligible American voter has the ability to participate in democracy, even during a pandemic. We’re calling on states to start preparing now to ensure safe elections in November, including emergency expansion of vote by mail, sanitized and socially distant polling places and other measures. This weekly update highlights the work we’re doing on the COVID-19 voting front, and other important developments in the news. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

Statement: To ensure safe, secure elections, Congress must ignore the President and fund the Postal Service

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump told Fox News Thursday that he does not want to fund the United States Postal Service (USPS) because he does not want American citizens to vote by mail. All states allow some vote-by-mail and 42 of them will allow any voter to do so this fall. Years of experience in states such as Oregon and Colorado have proven that, when done properly, voting by mail is very secure.

The President has claimed, without any merit, that expanded vote by mail will spur election fraud. In contrast, experts have concluded that weakening the USPS does pose a threat to our democracy and public health

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | COVID-19, Democracy

This week in COVID-19 voting news

U.S. PIRG and its state affiliates are working to make sure every eligible American voter has the ability to participate in democracy, even during a pandemic. We’re calling on states to start preparing now to ensure safe elections in November, including emergency expansion of vote by mail, sanitized and socially-distant polling places and other measures. This weekly update highlights the work we’re doing on the COVID-19 voting front, and other important developments in the news.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | U.S. PIRG | COVID-19, Democracy

This week in COVID-19 voting news

U.S. PIRG and its state affiliates are working to make sure that every eligible American voter has the ability to participate in democracy, even during a pandemic. We’re calling on states to start preparing now to ensure safe elections in November, including emergency expansion of vote by mail, sanitized and socially distant polling places and other measures.This weekly update highlights the work we’re doing on the COVID-19 voting front, and other important developments in the news.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | COVID-19, Democracy

Statement: USPS decision to suspend service changes is a start

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced Tuesday that he is suspending operational changes he’d made to the United States Postal Service (USPS) until after the November presidential election. The recently implemented changes were designed to cut costs but have caused delays to mail service in many parts of the country. This development raised concerns that the USPS would not be able to deliver critical election mail on time.  In the statement, DeJoy also pledged that USPS retail hours will not change; mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes will remain where they are; and no mail processing facilities will be closed. However, he did not commit to reinstating previously made cuts to services.

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | COVID-19, Democracy

This week in COVID-19 voting news

U.S. PIRG and its state affiliates are working to make sure that every eligible American voter has the ability to participate in democracy, even during a pandemic. We’re calling on states to start preparing now to ensure safe elections in November, including emergency expansion of vote by mail, sanitized and socially distant polling places and other measures. This weekly update highlights the work we’re doing on the COVID-19 voting front, and other important developments in the news. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

Statement: To ensure safe, secure elections, Congress must ignore the President and fund the Postal Service

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump told Fox News Thursday that he does not want to fund the United States Postal Service (USPS) because he does not want American citizens to vote by mail. All states allow some vote-by-mail and 42 of them will allow any voter to do so this fall. Years of experience in states such as Oregon and Colorado have proven that, when done properly, voting by mail is very secure.

The President has claimed, without any merit, that expanded vote by mail will spur election fraud. In contrast, experts have concluded that weakening the USPS does pose a threat to our democracy and public health

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | COVID-19, Democracy

This week in COVID-19 voting news

U.S. PIRG and its state affiliates are working to make sure every eligible American voter has the ability to participate in democracy, even during a pandemic. We’re calling on states to start preparing now to ensure safe elections in November, including emergency expansion of vote by mail, sanitized and socially-distant polling places and other measures. This weekly update highlights the work we’re doing on the COVID-19 voting front, and other important developments in the news.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Report | U.S. PIRG and Money in Politics Coalition | Democracy

Our Voices Our Democracy

On the verge of the most expensive election in U.S. history—and six years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision—Americans are demanding a government that is truly by the people, where every voice is heard and every vote counts.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Boosting the Impact of Small Donors, Q3 2015

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

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

Fighting Big Money, Empowering People

Like every generation before us, Americans are coming together to preserve a democracy of the people, by the people, and for the people. American democracy is premised on the consent of the governed, and on the idea that we all deserve a say in the government decisions that affect our families. We stand united supporting commonsense protections that recognize the people as the ultimate check on the corrosive influence of money in politics, which is eroding the very foundation of self-government.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG and Demos | Democracy

The Money Chase

Five years after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision, what are the roles of large donors and average voters in selecting and supporting candidates for Congress? This report examines the role of money in the 2014 congressional elections from both quantitative and qualitative perspectives, and demonstrates how matching small political contributions with limited public funds can change the campaign landscape for grassroots candidates.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Demos | Democracy

The Dominance of Big Money in the 2014 Congressional Elections

In 2014, large donors accounted for the vast majority of all individual federal election contributions this cycle, just as they have in previous elections. Seven of every 10 individual contribution dollars to the federal candidates, parties, PACs and Super PACs that were active in the 2013-2014 election cycle came from donors who gave $200 or more. Candidates alone got 84 percent of their individual contributions from large donors.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Democracy

A reluctant convert to vote-by-mail

I’m a big vote-in-person guy, but not at the risk of spreading infection.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Confused about the caucus? There's a better way. Ranked-choice voting would be a big improvement | Joe Ready

To many, Iowa caucuses seem a bit confusing, but there is something valuable about the process of caucusing. Caucussing attempts to address a real problem in American politics: limited voter choice. When you only have one vote, you often have to decide between a candidate who most closely shares your values and the candidate you think is most likely to win.  But after watching the 2020 caucuses, there has to be a simpler, better way to assess the will of the voters. Fortunately, there is, and it’s called ranked-choice voting (RCV).

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Small dollar donors are winning! (for now) | Joe Ready

Small donors finally are gaining a meaningful voice in our presidential primaries. Political and cultural developments mean that it is NOT always more expedient to rely on big money to fund a presidential campaign. While it is still early in the 2020 campaign, this is a trend worth noting and, for now, celebrating.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Happy Birthday Citizens United; May It Be Your Last | Joe Ready

This month, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision turns eight. With all that’s going on in politics, it’s easy to focus on the latest scandal or hot take. But we should take the opportunity on this anniversary to focus on what I would argue is at the root of our political quagmire.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

It’s Time to Invest in Our Democracy | Joe Ready

We’ve seen a lot of politicians talking about “infrastructure” recently. While everyone seems to have a slightly different vision of what that catch-all term means, we have transpartisan agreement that we need to do something about our most critical infrastructure. But while our roads, bridges and sewers certainly need work, I’d argue that the infrastructure we most urgently need to invest in isn’t so concrete — it’s our democracy.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | U.S. PIRG

Early Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump falsely claimed to have won the 2020 presidential election. At this point, there are still too many uncounted ballots for either candidate to claim victory.  Election administrators in such battleground states as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania have not yet finished counting the millions of absentee ballots cast this year

News Release | U.S. PIRG

U.S. PIRG and its state affiliates are working to make sure that every eligible American voter has the ability to participate in democracy, even during a pandemic. We have called on states to ensure safe elections in November, with emergency expansion of vote by mail, sanitized and socially distant polling places and other measures. This weekly update highlights the work we’re doing on the COVID-19 voting front, and other important developments in the news.

News Release | U.S. PIRG

U.S. PIRG and its state affiliates are working to make sure that every eligible American voter has the ability to participate in democracy, even during a pandemic. We have called on states to ensure safe elections in November, with emergency expansion of vote by mail, sanitized and socially distant polling places and other measures.This weekly update highlights the work we’re doing on the COVID-19 voting front, and other important developments in the news.

News Release | U.S. PIRG

U.S. PIRG and its state affiliates are working to make sure that every eligible American voter has the ability to participate in democracy, even during a pandemic. We have called on states to ensure safe elections in November, with emergency expansion of vote by mail, sanitized and socially distant polling places and other measures. This weekly update highlights the work we’re doing on the COVID-19 voting front, and other important developments in the news.

News Release | U.S. PIRG

U.S. PIRG and its state affiliates are working to make sure that every eligible American voter has the ability to participate in democracy, even during a pandemic. We have called on states to ensure safe elections in November, with emergency expansion of vote by mail, sanitized and socially distant polling places and other measures. This weekly update, which is coming a bit earlier than usual this week, highlights the work we’re doing on the COVID-19 voting front, and other important developments in the news.

Democracy

CDC guidelines offer roadmap to the safest elections for the most voters

Updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention serve to limit crowding at polling places and call for expanded voting options, including vote-by-mail ballots and opportunities for voting beyond Election Day.

 

Democracy

States should start preparing for November voting now

You shouldn't have to choose between casting your ballot and risking your health. U.S. PIRG is calling on states to start preparing for the November election now by expanding their vote-by-mail options, and by planning for sanitized and socially distant polling places.

 

Democracy

PIRG urges states to adopt emergency absentee voting

The novel coronavirus outbreak is, understandably, causing many Americans to think twice about going to the polls. To protect public health and the integrity of our elections, PIRG is calling on states to make sure residents can cast absentee ballots for the 2020 elections.

 

Democracy

A somber anniversary: 10 years after the Citizens United decision

January 15th marked the 10th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, widely blamed for opening the floodgates to special interest spending in our elections. U.S. legislators joined PIRG and other pro-democracy organizations to decry the ongoing harm caused by the ruling—and to highlight the growth of the pro-reform movement. 

 
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