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 | WISPIRG | Democracy

Coalition Urges Senate to Reject AB225, ‘More Big Money in Politics’ Bill

A broad statewide coalition of citizen and public interest organizations are calling on the state Senate to reject AB225, a bill that would double contributions limits to Wisconsin political campaigns and allow big money to further drown out the voices of Wisconsin voters. 
 

> Keep Reading
News Release | WISPIRG | Democracy

Money OUT, Voters IN Wisconsin stands with legislative leaders against Citizens United

The Money OUT, Voters IN Wisconsin coalition, comprised of 32 organizations committed to combating the influence of big special interest money in elections, joined State Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison) today in Madison to announce the introduction of a resolution (LRB 1457/5) to place a referendum on the November, 2014, statewide ballot allowing the voters of Wisconsin to be heard on the issue of Citizens United. State Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) will introduce the resolution in the State Senate.
 

> Keep Reading
News Release | WISPIRG | Democracy

WISPIRG Statement on Introduction of Wisconsin Citizens United Resolution

The first post-Citizens United major election in November 2012 confirmed our fears that the new campaign finance system allows well-heeled special interests and secret spenders to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.  The people of Wisconsin deserve to have our say in whether this is the democracy we want. 
 

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Wisconsin Bill Would Double Campaign Contribution Limits, Increase Big Money in Politics | Bruce Speight

On June 10, the Wisconsin General Assembly passed a bill that, if passed by the Senate, would double the contribution limits to Wisconsin political campaigns and allow big money to further drown out the voices of Wisconsin voters. The bill also contains a provision to implement an online registration system — a great idea, but not enough to make this big-money bill worth passing.
 

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Blog Post | Democracy

IRS Scandal Highlights Need for Increased Transparency in Campaign Financing | Bruce Speight

The public has long agreed that transparency in campaign spending is critical to the integrity of our democracy. The Supreme Court acknowledged this common-sense proposition in its notorious 2010 Citizens United decision: even as they opened the door for dark money to enter our elections by allowing all corporations, including nonprofits, to spend directly on elections, the majority of Justices reaffirmed the long-standing notion that the identity of campaign donors must be disclosed.
 

> Keep Reading

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Media Hit | Democracy

Campaign 2012 News Conference: WISPIRG, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign on Campaign Spending Reform

A coalition of Wisconsin leaders and organizations is calling on Republican Governor Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Tom Barrett to pledge to the people of Wisconsin that they will take action, call a special session and provide Wisconsinites full disclosure of the source of campaign dollars and issue ads for state races and close loopholes that allow unlimited campaign fundraising. 

Click on the title above to watch the press conference on Wisconsin Eye.

 

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News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Democracy

Wisconsinites Call on Barrett, Walker to Pledge ‘Special Legislative Session to Protect our Democracy’

A coalition of Wisconsin leaders and organizations is calling on Republican Governor Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Tom Barrett to pledge to the people of Wisconsin that they will take action, call a special session and provide Wisconsinites full disclosure of the source of campaign dollars and issue ads for state races and close loopholes that allow unlimited campaign fundraising. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | WISPIRG | 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 “yay” 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 the 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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Media Hit | Democracy, Tax

WI Public Radio: PROPOSED LAW AIMS TO CONTROL CORPORATE SPENDING ON POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS

A new WISPIRG report focuses on thirty wealthy corporations that spent $2 billion lobbying for a wide range of legislation, yet paid little if any corporate taxes. WISPIRG spokesman Bruce Speight says in most cases they paid no taxes, "Twenty-nine of the 30 so deftly exploited the tax loopholes in our tax code that they boasted negative tax rates meaning they are getting money back from our government."

> Keep Reading
News Release | WISPIRG | Democracy, Tax

Thirty Fortune 500 Companies Paid More to Lobby Congress than they Did in Federal Income Taxes

With the second anniversary approaching of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case – which opened the floodgates to corporate spending on elections – WISPIRG and Citizens for Tax Justice reveal 30 corporations that spent more to lobby Congress than they did in taxes.

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