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

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This weekly update highlights the work we’re doing on the COVID-19 voting front, and other important developments in the news.

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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.

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

This week in COVID-19 voting news

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

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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.

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

This week in COVID-19 voting news

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.

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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

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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.

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

Million-Dollar Megaphones

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

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

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

Representation Without Taxation

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Blog Post | Democracy

Cruz, Meadows propose rollback to campaign contribution limits

On Wednesday, Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Mark Meadows introduced legislation that would eliminate campaign contribution limits, allowing wealthy donors to give unlimited funds to the campaigns of their choice. The proposal by Cruz and Meadows comes on the heels of an election in which money in politics was a top voter concern.

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Blog Post | Democracy

Here's Where Your Congressional Candidates Get Their Funding

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. 

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Since the 2010 Citizens United ruling, we've heard about Super PACs able to spend unlimited amounts on our elections while obscuring the sources of the cash. Now, their tactics are getting even more creative.

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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

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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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