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

Blog Post | COVID-19, Democracy

This week in COVID-19 voting news | Joe Ready

U.S. PIRG and its state affiliates are working to ensure 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
Blog Post | COVID-19, Democracy

The pandemic is pushing states to make long-needed voting reforms. There's still more to do. | Joe Ready

The coronavirus (COVID-19) has forced many states to make significant changes to their elections in order to protect public health. Remarkably though, even with a dangerous virus that makes any in-person activity at least somewhat risky (e.g., going to a polling place on Election Day), there are states -- both red and blue -- that still haven’t made the necessary changes to let people vote safely. In a country with tremendous technological expertise and a history of innovation, that’s mind-boggling. The policy prescriptions have been right in front of us to offer every American safe, secure and convenient options to vote but powerful inertia, intentional or not, has kept America from modernizing its democracy.

> 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 ensure 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. If you have questions or comments, please email Joe Ready (jready@pirg.org) or Ross Sherman (rsherman@publicinterestnetwork.org).

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

Statement: Ohio bribery scheme a betrayal of trust

WASHINGTON -- Federal agents arrested Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four other people Tuesday in connection with an alleged racketeering and bribery scheme. They are accused of soliciting and accepting $60 million in exchange for passing House Bill 6 -- legislation that secured over $1 billion to bail out two aging nuclear power plants in northern Ohio, with the cost covered by Ohio ratepayers.

> 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 ensure 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

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 ensure 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. If you have questions or comments, please email Joe Ready (jready@pirg.org) or Ross Sherman (rsherman@publicinterestnetwork.org).

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

Statement: Ohio bribery scheme a betrayal of trust

WASHINGTON -- Federal agents arrested Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four other people Tuesday in connection with an alleged racketeering and bribery scheme. They are accused of soliciting and accepting $60 million in exchange for passing House Bill 6 -- legislation that secured over $1 billion to bail out two aging nuclear power plants in northern Ohio, with the cost covered by Ohio ratepayers.

> 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 ensure 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

This week in COVID-19 voting news

U.S. PIRG and its state affiliates are working to ensure that every eligible American voter has the ability to participate in democracy, even during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) 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

New CDC guidelines offer recommendations for safe voting during COVID-19

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated its guidance for voting safely during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The agency’s recommendations center around how to reduce dangerous crowding at polling places and how to minimize the risk of infection when voting.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Big Money Dominates in Congressional Primaries

Our analysis of fund-raising data from 2014’s congressional primaries examines the way these dynamics are playing out state by state across the country. While some states show markedly more inequity than others, the picture painted by the data is of a primary money race where large donors carry more weight than ordinary Americans. Nationwide, just under two-thirds of all candidate contributions came from the largest donors (those giving over $1,000). And fewer than 5,500 large donors matched the primary contributions coming from at least 440,000 donors nationwide.

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

"McCutcheon" Could Add Over $1 Billion in Contributions to Next Four Elections

We project that striking the aggregate contribution limit would bring more than $1 billion in additional campaign contributions from elite donors through the 2020 election cycle.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
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.

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

Distorted Democracy: Post-Election Spending Analysis

A new analysis of data through Election Day from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and other sources by U.S. PIRG and Demos shows how big outside spenders drowned out small contributions in 2012: 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 major party presidential candidates. 

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Democracy

Equifax shareholders should shed sunlight on political spending | Joe Ready

On Thursday, the shareholders of Equifax, Inc., will vote on whether or not the corporation should disclose not just direct political contributions but also secret, dark money spending. The shareholders should not let this opportunity to know how their company is spending its money slip through their fingers.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Disenfranchised voters deserve action | Sean Doyle

At least 26,000 voters in Pennsylvania were disenfranchised, through no fault of their own, before the last election due to problems processing their voter registration applications. What happened?

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

A bipartisan approach to modernizing voter registration | Sean Doyle

In today’s political climate, it can feel like political parties can’t even agree on what time of day it is. But there are some surprising areas of cooperation among Democrats and Republicans at the state level. One such area is in modernizing voter registration with a policy known as automatic voter registration.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Let’s Put Voters Back on the Map | Sean Doyle

Some of the biggest contributors to candidates in our elections are corporations, which spend tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on political contests up and down the ballot. The influence of corporate money in our elections puts our democracy at risk, pushing regular voters to the sidelines as candidates work to court big money interests.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Call your representative and senators every day. Here's how. | Andre Delattre

There’s a lot unfolding in Washington, D.C., right now, and you may be wondering: “What can I do to voice my concerns?”

> 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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