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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.
Super PACs and Super Wealthy Dominate Elections
Wealthy donors have always had an outsized influence in our democracy, but misguided jurisprudence, like the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, has opened the floodgates for mega donations and corporate spending in our elections.
Spending on political races has skyrocketed, and running for office has never been more expensive. The 2020 election cycle was the most expensive in U.S. history with over $14 billion spent. As a result, unless candidates are independently wealthy, they often need to court contributions from mega-donors or corporate interests to be competitive in their races.
Our currect campaign finance system gives a very small number of people massive influence on who runs for office and, often, what issues they decide to talk about. In 2016, fewer than 400 families gave more than half of all of the money raised in the presidential race. That’s not how our democracy is supposed to work. Our democracy is supposed to be based on the principle of one person, one vote.
Ultimately, we need to overturn Citizens United and make other systemic changes if we want to get big money out of our elections. But large-scale changes like these take time, public pressure, and elected leaders who are committed to making it happen. That’s why we’re researching and supporting small donor empowerment programs, that will bring power back to the people.
It's time to reclaim our democracy and bring it back to the principle of one person, one vote.
RECLAIMING OUR DEMOCRACY
Small donor publc financing programs match contributions of ordinary people with public funds. Candidates access these funds when they opt into the program and refuse to take large and corporate contributions. This means anyone with enough public support can run for office, those candidates can raise enough money to be competitive, and they will be answerable to their constituents, not a handful of mega-donors and corporations.
Communites across Maryland have established small donor public financing to give everyone a voice in our elections and keep big money out. Montgomery County's program was in effect for the first time for the 2018 elections. To participate, candidates must reject contributions over $150 and money from corporations. Maryland PIRG Foundation analysis found:
- Candidates who had qualified received nearly twice as many donations from Montgomery County residents than those not participating.
- Those not participating received only 8 percent of their donations from people giving less than $150, while those participating received more than 90 percent of their donations from people giving less than $150.
- By the June primary, more than half of all candidates, over 30 total, participated in the program. Ultimately, 22 qualified for the program — candidates from both parties and from a wide range of backgrounds who were able to run competitive campaigns based on support from the communities, not large donors.
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.
Millennials and Gen Z make up the largest group of potential voters in the country. Historically, youth voters have been underrepresented in politics due to low voter turnout, but early voting rates and a swell of activism this year show that young people are posed to reverse this trend in 2020.
The Student PIRGs New Voters Project joined more than 2,500 partners across the country to celebrate National Vote Early Day, the first civic holiday to help Americans take advantage of their options to vote early. In Arizona, 50 students involved with Arizona PIRG Students called and texted thousands of their peers to help them make plans to vote. Dozens of student organizations, community groups, and faculty joined the massive outreach effort. Supporting first time voters navigate the process is critical in helping ensure they turn out.
In-person voting on Election Day is on the relatively higher-risk end of activities. That is why states across the country have been scrambling since the outbreak began to adapt their voting systems to accommodate more mail-in or absentee voting, while maintaining sufficient and socially-distant in-person locations. With less than six weeks before Arizona’s primary election and less than five months until the November general election, state and local officials need to keep that effort going full steam.
The majority of counties in our state recently broke their record for voter turnout in a primary election. The uptick in voters in these counties contributed to a new voter primary election turnout record not only for individual counties but also for our state. While we applaud the increase in voter turnout, we know Arizona can do better.
Tomorrow as part of National Voter Registration Day in-person voter registration opportunities will exist at college campuses, shopping centers, restaurants and other venues in Arizona and across the country.
Tools & Resources
Your tax-deductible donation supports Arizona PIRG Education Fund's work to educate consumers on the issues that matter, and to stand up to the powerful interests that are blocking progress.
You can also support Arizona PIRG Education Fund’s work through bequests, contributions from life insurance or retirement plans, securities contributions and vehicle donations.