Democracy For The People

Arizona PIRG 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 | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

New Analysis: Tiny Number of Wealthy Contributors Match Millions of Small Donors in Recent Election

A new analysis of data through Election Day from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and other sources by the Arizona PIRG Education Fund and Demos documents that big outside spenders drowned out small contributions in 2012.

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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Distorted Democracy:

A new analysis of pre-election data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and other sources by the Arizona PIRG Education Fund and Demos shows that outside spending in the first presidential election since Citizens United is living up to its hype: new waves of “outside spending” have been fueled by dark money and unlimited fundraising from a small number of wealthy donors.

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News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

NEW REPORT DETAILS LATEST NUMBERS ON OUTSIDE SPENDING, SECRET MONEY AND SUPER PAC FUNDRAISING FOR 2012 ELECTIONS

The Top 5 “dark money” spenders on presidential election ads have reported less than 1% of their spending to the FEC, which is all that is required by the agency’s insufficient standards, according to a new report analyzing the latest campaign filings. Today, public policy organizations Dēmos and the Arizona PIRG Education Fund released “Megaphones for Millionaires: Super PACs and Unlimited Outside Spending in the 2012 Elections,” which provides a detailed analysis of Federal Election Commission (FEC) data and secondary sources on outside spending and Super PAC fundraising for 2012 election cycle.

 

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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Million-Dollar Megaphones

Although each major party presidential candidate will likely break previous fundraising records, the big story of the 2012 election has been the role of Super PACs, nonprofits and outside spending generally. Demos and the Arizona PIRG Education Fund analyzed Federal Election Commission (FEC) data and secondary sources on outside spending and Super PAC fundraising for the first two quarters of the 2012 election cycle.

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News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Statement on Supreme Court Passing on Revisiting Citizens United

Today the Supreme Court passed on the opportunity to revisit its 2010 Citizens United decision which is wreaking havoc on democracy and it has done so in a way that avoids giving the American public a much deserved explanation.

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News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Democracy, Transportation

Effects of Campaign Giving on Transportation Policy Highlighted in New Report

The Arizona PIRG Education Fund released a new report highlighting the potential influence of campaign giving on transportation funding decisions at the state and federal level. Greasing the Wheels: the Crossroads of Campaign Money and Transportation Policy looks at transportation funding and campaign contributions both in Arizona and across the nation.

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News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Modernizing Our Voter Registration System Could Eliminate Millions in Wasteful Spending

According to Saving Dollars, Saving Democracy, a new Arizona PIRG Education Fund study, over $33,467,910.00 of public money from 100 counties across the nation was spent on simple registration implementation and error-correction issues in 2008. 

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News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

National Young Voter Turnout Increases by More than Two Million

Young voter turnout surged by at least 2.2 million votes over 2004 levels this election, according to new data released by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.

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News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

The Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project

The Student PIRGs’ New Voters Project is America’s oldest and largest nonpartisan youth voter mobilization program. We started the project in 1984, after witnessing an alarming decrease in youth voter turnout over the previous decade. Over the last twenty years, we developed our theory of the “cycle of mutual neglect” to help explain why youth voter turnout was so weak.

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