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WAUSAU — The Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) was joined today by 2014 Congressional candidate Kelly Westlund to release a new study, “The Money Chase: Moving from Big Money Dominance in the 2014 Midterms to a Small Donor Democracy.” The study, which was written by WISPIRG and Demos, found that the top two vote-getters in the 25 most competitive districts in 2014 got 86 percent of their campaign dollars from individuals giving $200 or more. Only two of the 50 candidates surveyed raised less than 70 percent of their individual contributions from big donors, and seven relied on big donors for more than 95 percent of their individual contributions.
“All too often, a handful of deep-pocked donors get to determine who runs for office, what issues make it onto the agenda, and too frequently, who wins,” said Peter Skopec, WISPIRG Campaigns Director. “Since most of us can’t afford to cut a thousand dollar check to candidates for elected office, we need to counter the outsized influence of mega-donors by amplifying the voices of small donors.”
“The current system makes sure that from start to finish our political process is dominated by the people with the most money,” said Westlund, who ran for Congress in Wisconsin’s 7th district. “It’s no wonder that there is no voice for working class people in Congress.”
The report analyzed the U.S. House races in the 25 most competitive districts, including in Wisconsin’s 7th, according to Cook Political Report PVI ratings. The data reveals that the 50 candidates in these races overwhelmingly relied on large contributions to bankroll their campaigns.
WISPIRG is advocating for the overturn of the Citizens United ruling, which would allow for sensible limits on campaign spending. In 2014, a local referendum saw an overwhelming 77% of Wausau residents vote in favor of getting big money out of politics.
Furthermore, WISPIRG supports a federal program laid out in the Government by the People Act that would match small contributions with limited public funds, allowing grassroots candidates relying on small donors to compete with big money candidates. If a small donor matching program were in place for the candidates profiled in the report, one of them would have significantly out-raised her opponent, and the others would have narrowed the fundraising gap by an average of nearly 40 percentage points.
Other key findings in “The Money Chase” include that candidates for the House must raise approximately $1,800 a day for two years prior to Election Day in order to match the fundraising of the median House winner in the 2014 elections. Candidates for the U.S. Senate must raise $3,300 every day for the length of a six-year Senate term to match the 2014 median winner.
The study also explains how this big money system filters out qualified, credible candidates from both parties who lack access to a network of large donors. Four candidates, including Westlund, who relied more on small donors but were significantly out-fundraised, are profiled in the report.
“When campaigns are paid for by big donors, those are the voices candidates hear the loudest. In a democracy based on the principle of one person, one vote, small donors should be at the center of campaign finance – not an afterthought,” concluded Skopec.
WISPIRG, the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.
Demos is a public policy organization working for an America where we all have an equal say in our democracy and an equal chance in our economy.
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