Democracy For The People

MASSPIRG Education Fund is pushing back against big money in our elections and working to educate the public about the benefits 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: 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 giving 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. 

It's time to reclaim our democracy and bring it back to the principle of one person, one vote. 

RECLAIMING OUR DEMOCRACY

Small donor empowerment programs that encourage the participation of the average American in the political system are a key weapon in the fight to reclaim our democracy. These programs provide public matching funds to campaigns for small donations and offer tax credits to encourage everyday citizens to make small campaign contributions.  

These programs can help focus candidates for office on seeking the broad support of the public rather than the narrow support of a few moneyed interests and help bring more ordinary citizens into the process. Their track record is impressive – for example, under New York City’s program, in 2013 participating City Council candidates got 61% of their contributions from small donations and matching funds, and in 2011, all but two winning city councilors used matching funds. If enacted nationally, a similar program could fundamentally shift the balance of power in our elections from mega-donors, back to ordinary citizens.

That’s why we’re working with our national coalition to educate citizens about the solutions that we can act on now to amplify their voices above the voices of megadonors and special interests. By assembling a broad coalition of support, educating and mobilizing citizens and digging deep into the impact of big money in our elections with our reports, we’re bringing democracy back to the people.

Together, we can win real changes now in how elections are funded throughout America — so more candidates for more offices focus on we, the people, instead of we, the megadonors.

 

Issue updates

Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

CarMax Endangers Lives in Massachusetts

CarMax, the nation's largest retailer of used cars, is selling recalled vehicles with dangerous and potentially lethal safety defects to Massachusetts car buyers. Those unsafe vehicles are hazardous not only to the people who buy them, but to the cars’ passengers and everyone else who shares the roads and adjacent areas, including sidewalks, driveways and parking lots. 

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News Release | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

New Study: Small Donor Matching Program Would Incentivize Shift in 2016 Presidential Fundraising Strategies

Candidates in the 2016 presidential race would see a dramatic shift in fundraising success under a proposed small donor public financing system, according to a study released on Wednesday by U.S. PIRG Education Fund. Using third quarter fundraising data filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in October, the report examines the potential impact of a program that matches small contributions with limited public funds for candidates who agree not to accept large donations.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Boosting the Impact of Small Donors

This report examines how the 2016 presidential race would be reshaped by a public financing system that amplifies the voices of small donors in our elections. 

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News Release | MASSPIRG | Democracy

Election Modernization Coalition Launches Inaugural Early Voting Challenge

In an effort to set a gold standard, advocates from the Massachusetts Election Modernization Coalition today announced their recommendations for implementing the state’s new early voting law. Scheduled to go into effect in November 2016, the new law provides Massachusetts voters with the opportunity to vote up to eleven days prior to Election Day.

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Report | MASSPIRG | Democracy

Early Voting Principles

 In May 2014, the Massachusetts legislature passed an historic reform of our state’s election laws. As part of the new law, it established early voting starting with the November 2016 election. Early voting is one important way to expand access to our democracy. It allows people whose work or family obligations preclude them from standing in line or even getting to the polls on Election Day, more opportunities to vote. The early voting period starts 11 business days preceding the election.

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News Release | MASSPIRG | Democracy

Election Modernization Coalition Launches Inaugural Early Voting Challenge

In an effort to set a gold standard, advocates from the Massachusetts Election Modernization Coalition today announced their recommendations for implementing the state’s new early voting law. Scheduled to go into effect in November 2016, the new law provides Massachusetts voters with the opportunity to vote up to eleven days prior to Election Day.

> Keep Reading
News Release | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

New study shows potential impact of a small donor matching program on 2016 presidential race

Candidates in the 2016 presidential race would see a dramatic shift in their fundraising, and have a powerful incentive to focus more on small donors under a proposed small donor public financing system, according to a study released on Tuesday by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) Education Fund. Using candidate filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) through July, “Boosting the Impact of Small Donors: How Matching Funds Would Reshape the 2016 Presidential Election” examines the impact of a program that matches small contributions with limited public funds for candidates who agree not to accept large donations.

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News Release | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Big Money Playing an Outsized Role in Massachusetts Elections

In Massachusetts’ congressional primaries, bigger wallets give a small set of mega-donors an outsized voice, according to new information released today by the MASSPIRG Education Fund and Demos.

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News Release | MASSPIRG Education Fund and Demos | Democracy

New Report Shows Impact of Big Money in the 2012 Election

“The first post-Citizens United presidential election confirmed our fears that the new unlimited-money regime allows well-heeled special interests and secret spenders to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens,” commented Janet Domenitz, Executive Director of MASSPIRG. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a Supreme Court case decided in 2010, held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. The report provides a detailed analysis of all federal election spending and fundraising by campaigns and Super PACs. The data uncovers the undue influence that large donors, business interests and secret spenders had in 2012.

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Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund and Dēmos | Democracy

Auctioning Democracy

This appendix provides a detailed look at business funding for Super PACs: top business donors, Super PACs which received the most business money, and amount and number of contributions by state.

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Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund and Dēmos | Democracy

Auctioning Democracy

The presidential race had barely gotten off the ground when it became clear that 2012 would be the year of the Super PAC. The millions of dollars raised and spent by these strange and powerful court-created entities have created a kind of parallel campaign, this reports begins to investigates its effects on our democracy.

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Report | Media and Democracy Coaltion | Democracy

A Public Interest Internet Agenda

Connecting our entire nation via high-speed broadband will bring remarkable economic, social, cultural, personal, and other benefits.

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Report | Democracy

Vanishing Voters

A new survey of state laws and election officials shows that, on the eve of the 2008 general election, nineteen states do not have laws, regulations or systems in place to properly implement a federally mandated 90-day pre-Election Day ban on systemic voter list purges. The survey, Vanishing Voters, was conducted during the summer of 2008 by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

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Mixed Signals

MASSPRG conducts survey of national TV retails stores and finds that consumers are getting Mixed Signals.

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