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

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.

> Keep Reading
Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Big Money Dominates in Congressional Primaries

Our analysis of fund-raising data from 2014’s congressional primaries examines the way these dynamics are playing out state by state across the country. While some states show markedly more inequity than others, the picture painted by the data is of a primary money race where large donors carry more weight than ordinary Americans. Nationwide, just under two-thirds of all candidate contributions came from the largest donors (those giving over $1,000). And fewer than 5,500 large donors matched the primary contributions coming from at least 440,000 donors nationwide.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund 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.

Demos and U.S. PIRG 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

Pages

News Release | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Democracy, Tax

Thirty Companies Contribute $41 Million to 524 Members of Congress, Receive $10.6 Billion in Tax Rebates

A new report released Wednesday, March 21st by MASSPIRG Education Fund and Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) found that thirty tax dodging corporations have made campaign contributions to 524 (98%) sitting members of Congress, and disproportionately to the leadership of both parties and to key committee members

> Keep Reading
News Release | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Report Begings to Uncover the Impact of Super PACs on Our Democracy

A new analysis released today of the funding sources for the campaign finance behemoths, Super PACs, confirms 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

Pages

View AllRSS Feed

Support Us

Your tax-deductible donation supports MASSPIRG Education Fund’s work to educate consumers on the issues that matter, and to stand up to the powerful interests that are blocking progress.

Learn More

You can also support MASSPIRG Education Fund’s work through bequests, contributions from life insurance or retirement plans, securities contributions and vehicle donations.