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 In Seattle ...

WashPIRG is part of a coalition working to reform our elections and get big money out. We have an exciting opportunity to do that in Seattle this fall.

I-122: Honest Elections Seattle has a simple goal of keeping Seattle elections transparent, accountable and honest by making a number of much-needed upgrades and improvements to how Seattle elections are currently run. I-122 will:

  • Limit corporate and wealthy interests' influence on elections by lowering contribution limits.
  • Increase participation of everyday people, by creating a democracy voucher program that empowers everyday people to engage in elections and encourages qualified candidates to focus on small donors, not just wealthy donors.
  • Keep elected officials honest by closing the revolving door of top officials and their aides taking lobbying jobs immediately after leaving office and requiring that they disclose conflicts of interest.
  • Increase transparency, accountability and fines on rule breakers.
To learn more about the initiative, visit this page.
 

... and Nationwide

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.

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

Blog Post | COVID-19, Democracy

Voting by mail is not only safe, it’s secure | Joe Ready

In response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) most states are letting anyone vote absentee for the spring and summer elections. Voting by mail is a safe, secure way fror people to cast their ballot because states, especially those who have a long history of voting by mail, have established strong safeguards to prevent improper voting.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | COVID-19, Democracy

Enough noise. Absentee voting is necessary in a COVID-19 general election. | Joe Ready

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is an emergency for our democracy. If we don’t take decisive action now, we could end up with Wisconsin-like nightmares across the country come November -- with voters forced to make a lose-lose decision between their health and participating in democracy. To avoid that worst-case scenario, our number one priority right now should be expanding access to the most workable solution to this crisis: vote by mail.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

An election judge’s perspective | Josh Chetwynd

Sometimes, metaphorically speaking, it’s good to see how the sausage is made. In my case, I had that chance when it comes to administering elections.

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

U.S. PIRG Calls on States to Adopt Emergency Absentee Voting

U.S. PIRG is calling on every state to establish an emergency universal absentee voting system to eliminate the need to physically go to the polls at a time where doing so could put voters’ health at risk. This would allow all registered voters to be mailed an absentee ballot if physically visiting the polls were unsafe.

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

Small donors driving 2020 presidential race

U.S. PIRG analyzed the campaign finance reports from 2020 candidates. We found that small donations, and the people who provide them, have a significant voice in the presidential race.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

U.S. PIRG Calls on States to Adopt Emergency Absentee Voting

U.S. PIRG is calling on every state to establish an emergency universal absentee voting system to eliminate the need to physically go to the polls at a time where doing so could put voters’ health at risk. This would allow all registered voters to be mailed an absentee ballot if physically visiting the polls were unsafe.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Democracy

Our Statement Regarding the President’s “Commission on Election Integrity”

Read WashPIRG's statement on the President's establishment of an "Advisory Commission on Election Integrity."

> Keep Reading
News Release | WashPIRG | Democracy

Testimony to Senate State Government Comm on SB 5108, a bill to increase transparency of PAC donors in WA

Testimony in support of SB 5108, which would discourage the practice of moving money between different political action committees, or PACs, in order to mislead or confuse voters about who is truly funding certain political campaigns or political advertisements.

> Keep Reading
News Release | WashPIRG | Democracy

Victory: Honest Elections Seattle Initiative Passes

On Tuesday, November 3, Seattle voters approved Initiative 122: Honest Election Seattle, putting Seattle at the forefront of a nationwide movement to empower regular voters and reduce the influence of special interests and mega-donors in elections. WashPIRG aided the passage of I-122, gathering signatures to qualify the initiative, and mobilizing canvassers and organizers to talk to thousands of voters over the past few weeks.

> Keep Reading
News Release | WashPIRG | Democracy

New study shows outsized role of elite donors, non-Seattle donors in 2015 City Council race

A new analysis by WashPIRG has found that just 1,589 contributors, whose individual contributions were worth $500 or more, provided more than half of the $2.5 million raised by candidates up to the August primary election. Candidates raised more than $450,000, or roughly one-fifth of all funds, from 596 non-resident donors who gave contributions worth $500 or more. Only 18 percent of the money raised by all Seattle city council candidates leading up to the August 4 primary came from small donors giving $100 or less.  Small dollar donors don’t have much of a voice when 82 percent of the money raised by candidates during the 2015 primary came from contributions of more than $100. The study also looks at how Honest Elections Seattle will empower regular voters and limit the influence of big money in local elections.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Result | Democracy

Giving Washingtonians a greater say in our elections

The size of your wallet shouldn’t determine the volume of your voice. In 2015, WashPIRG helped Seattle voters pass a first-in-the-nation small donor empowerment program, Initiative-122: Honest Elections Seattle. The program gives Seattle voters “democracy vouchers” that can be donated to local candidates and lowers the limit on contributions candidates can receive.

> Keep Reading
Result | Democracy

Delivering one million petitions to President Obama on dark money

U.S. PIRG joined a broad coalition to deliver one million petitions from Americans, including U.S. PIRG members and supporters, calling on President Obama to shine a light on dark money, or secret political spending.

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

Small donors driving 2020 presidential race

U.S. PIRG analyzed the campaign finance reports from 2020 candidates. We found that small donations, and the people who provide them, have a significant voice in the presidential race.

> Keep Reading
Report | WashPIRG | Democracy

The Outsized Influence of Big Money in Seattle's Elections

The role of money in elections is typically discussed in the context of high profile races such as those for President, Congress, or Governor, but big money from a tiny sliver of wealthy donors has an outsized role even in cities like Seattle.  The influence of money in smaller races like City Council is often underestimated.  This report looks at political giving in Seattle’s first district elections – the August 4, 2015 primary.  

> Keep Reading
Report | WashPIRG Foundation | 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.

> Keep Reading
Report | WashPIRG | Democracy

The Money Chase

Five years after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision, what are the roles of large donors and average voters in selecting and supporting candidates for Congress? This report examines the role of money in the 2014 congressional elections from both quantitative and qualitative perspectives, and demonstrates how matching small political contributions with limited public funds can change the campaign landscape for grassroots candidates.

> Keep Reading
Report | WashPIRG Foundation and Demos | Democracy

The Dominance of Big Money in the 2014 Congressional Elections

In 2014, large donors accounted for the vast majority of all individual federal election contributions this cycle, just as they have in previous elections. Seven of every 10 individual contribution dollars to the federal candidates, parties, PACs and Super PACs that were active in the 2013-2014 election cycle came from donors who gave $200 or more. Candidates alone got 84 percent of their individual contributions from large donors.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | COVID-19, Democracy

Voting by mail is not only safe, it’s secure | Joe Ready

In response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) most states are letting anyone vote absentee for the spring and summer elections. Voting by mail is a safe, secure way fror people to cast their ballot because states, especially those who have a long history of voting by mail, have established strong safeguards to prevent improper voting.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | COVID-19, Democracy

Enough noise. Absentee voting is necessary in a COVID-19 general election. | Joe Ready

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is an emergency for our democracy. If we don’t take decisive action now, we could end up with Wisconsin-like nightmares across the country come November -- with voters forced to make a lose-lose decision between their health and participating in democracy. To avoid that worst-case scenario, our number one priority right now should be expanding access to the most workable solution to this crisis: vote by mail.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

An election judge’s perspective | Josh Chetwynd

Sometimes, metaphorically speaking, it’s good to see how the sausage is made. In my case, I had that chance when it comes to administering elections.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Call your representative and senators every day. Here's how. | Andre Delattre

There’s a lot unfolding in Washington, D.C., right now, and you may be wondering: “What can I do to voice my concerns?”

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Six Twitter users to follow for all things democracy

This election cycle news about money in politics, election fiascos and voting rights is breaking at the speed of, well, Twitter. If you want to stay up-to-date, we’ve got your back.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post

In response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) most states are letting anyone vote absentee for the spring and summer elections. Voting by mail is a safe, secure way fror people to cast their ballot because states, especially those who have a long history of voting by mail, have established strong safeguards to prevent improper voting.

Blog Post

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is an emergency for our democracy. If we don’t take decisive action now, we could end up with Wisconsin-like nightmares across the country come November -- with voters forced to make a lose-lose decision between their health and participating in democracy. To avoid that worst-case scenario, our number one priority right now should be expanding access to the most workable solution to this crisis: vote by mail.

Blog Post

Sometimes, metaphorically speaking, it’s good to see how the sausage is made. In my case, I had that chance when it comes to administering elections.

News Release | U.S. PIRG

U.S. PIRG is calling on every state to establish an emergency universal absentee voting system to eliminate the need to physically go to the polls at a time where doing so could put voters’ health at risk. This would allow all registered voters to be mailed an absentee ballot if physically visiting the polls were unsafe.

Report | U.S. PIRG

U.S. PIRG analyzed the campaign finance reports from 2020 candidates. We found that small donations, and the people who provide them, have a significant voice in the presidential race.

Democracy

CDC guidelines offer roadmap to the safest elections for the most voters

Updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention serve to limit crowding at polling places and call for expanded voting options, including vote-by-mail ballots and opportunities for voting beyond Election Day.

 

Democracy

States should start preparing for November voting now

You shouldn't have to choose between casting your ballot and risking your health. U.S. PIRG is calling on states to start preparing for the November election now by expanding their vote-by-mail options, and by planning for sanitized and socially distant polling places.

 

Democracy

PIRG urges states to adopt emergency absentee voting

The novel coronavirus outbreak is, understandably, causing many Americans to think twice about going to the polls. To protect public health and the integrity of our elections, PIRG is calling on states to make sure residents can cast absentee ballots for the 2020 elections.

 

Democracy

A somber anniversary: 10 years after the Citizens United decision

January 15th marked the 10th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, widely blamed for opening the floodgates to special interest spending in our elections. U.S. legislators joined PIRG and other pro-democracy organizations to decry the ongoing harm caused by the ruling—and to highlight the growth of the pro-reform movement. 

 
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