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.

Image: Flickr User: Joe Shlabotnik - Creative Commons

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 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.

Issue updates

News Release | MoPIRG | Democracy

MoPIRG Applauds the Introduction of the Government by the People Act

MoPIRG applauded Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Saint Louis) and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Kansas City) today for co-sponsoring new legislation aimed at raising the voices of everyday people in the political process.

> Keep Reading
News Release | MoPIRG | Democracy

ON DAY OF ORAL ARGUMENT IN MCCUTCHEON V. FEC, LOCAL GROUPS GATHER TO PUSH BACK ON BIG MONEY IN POLITICS, DEMAND SOLUTIONS

MoPIRG, Missouri Sierra Club, Saint Louis NAACP, and the Vice-Chair of the Missouri House Ethics Committee gathered at the Old Courthouse in Saint Louis to push back on the power of big money in elections, as the U.S. Supreme Court today heard oral arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC. Advocates say the case would further increase the electoral clout of a few large donors.

> Keep Reading
Report | MoPIRG, DEMOS | Democracy

"McCutcheon" Could Add Over $1 Billion In Contributions To Next Four Elections

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

> Keep Reading
Report | MoPIRG Foundation and 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.

Dēmos and MoPIRG Education Fund 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 | MoPIRG Foundation and the Center for Media and Democracy | Democracy

Elections Confidential

Elections Confidential describes how secret donors poured hundreds of millions into the 2012 election through “social welfare” non-profits 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

Pages

News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

Citizens United Solution Unveiled

Today Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Chris Van Hollen introduced a series of strong reforms in response to the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United ruling.

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

Modernizing Our Voter Registration System Could Eliminate Millions in Wasteful Spending

A new U.S. PIRG Education Fund study estimated that over $33,467,910.00 of public money from 100 counties was spent on simple registration implementation and error-correction issues in 2008.  

> Keep Reading

Pages

Report | U.S. PIRG, 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
Report | MoPIRG Foundation | Democracy

Auctioning Democracy

A new report by MoPIRG Foundation and Demos shows an analysis of the funding sources for the campaign finance behemoths, Super PACs. The findings confirmed what many have predicted in the wake of the Supreme Court’s damaging Citizens United decision: since their inception in 2010, Super PACs have been primarily funded by a small segment of very wealthy individuals and business interests, with a small but significant amount of funds coming from secret sources.

> Keep Reading
Report | MoPIRG | Democracy

Following the Money: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data

This report evaluates states’ progress toward “Transparency 2.0”—a new standard of comprehensive, one-stop, one-click budget accountability and accessibility. At least 7 states have become leaders in the drive toward Transparency 2.0, launching easy-to-use, searchable Web sites with a wide range of spending transparency information. Twenty-five additional states have made initial steps toward online spending transparency by launching Web sites with checkbook-level detail on state spending that nonetheless have much room for improvement. 

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

Saving Dollars, Saving Democracy

While there is much to celebrate in the expanded participation of traditionally underrepresented groups – for example, 3.4 million more young voters than the previous election – it is also important to recognize the enormous obstacles and cost inefficiencies that occur in our current registration system.  

U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s survey of 100 counties showed that over $33,467,910.00 of public money was spent on simple registration implementation and error-correction issues in 2008.  

> Keep Reading

Pages

View AllRSS Feed

Join Our Call

Tell your representative to stand up for our democracy, and amplify the voices of small donors in our elections.

Support Us

Your donation supports MoPIRG’s work to stand up for consumers on the issues that matter, especially when powerful interests are blocking progress.

Consumer Alerts

Join our network and stay up to date on our campaigns, get important consumer updates and take action on critical issues.
Optional Member Code