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

Report | Arizona PIRG 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 | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

SUPREME COURT RULES FOR ANOTHER FLOOD OF BIG MONEY

Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in McCutcheon v. FEC to strike down overall, or aggregate, contribution limits to candidates and political committees. Arizona PIRG Education Fund research found that this ruling could bring $1 billion in additional campaign contributions from fewer than 2,800 elite donors through the 2020 election cycle.

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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | 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. The Arizona PIRG Education Fund and Demos analysis of reports from campaigns, parties, and outside spenders to the Federal Election Commission found that our big money system distorts democracy and creates winners and losers.

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News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

New Report: Billion-Dollar Democracy Shows Unprecedented Impact of Big Money in 2012 Elections

It took just 32 billionaires and corporations giving Super PACs an average of $9.9 million apiece to match every single dollar given by small donors to Romney and Obama in the 2012 election cycle, according to Billion-Dollar Democracy, a new report by the Arizona PIRG Education Fund and Demos. Those small donations amounted to over $313 million from more than 3.7 million individuals.

> Keep Reading
Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Elections Confidential

Elections Confidential describes how secret donors poured hundreds of millions into the 2012 election through “social welfare” non-profits that are really political vehicles and via shell corporations formed as conduits to hide a funder’s identity. 

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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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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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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

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

A new report released by the Arizona PIRG Education Fund and Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) found that thirty unusually aggressive tax dodging corporations have made campaign contributions to 524 (98 percent) sitting members of Congress, and disproportionately to the leadership of both parties and to key committee members.

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News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Thirty Fortune 500 Companies Paid More to Lobby Congress than to Federal Income Taxes

With the second anniversary approaching of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case – which opened the floodgates to corporate spending on elections – the Arizona PIRG Education Fund and Citizens for Tax Justice revealed 30 corporations that spent more to lobby Congress than they did in taxes.

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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Analysis of 2012 Data through Election Day – November 13, 2012

This analysis documents that the first post-Citizens United presidential election afforded corporations and large donors the opportunity to use their wealth to amplify their voices far beyond the volume of the average member of the general public - threatening the basic American principle of political equality.

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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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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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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Loopholes for Sale

Recent polls show a large majority of Americans, including small business owners, convinced that profitable corporations are not paying enough in taxes. Citizens for Tax Justice and U.S. PIRG’s Loopholes for Sale pursues the intersection of corporate campaign contributions to members of Congress and the absence of Congressional action to close corporate tax loopholes and raise additional revenue from corporate taxes.

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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Representation Without Taxation

Marking the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case – which opened the floodgates to corporate spending on elections – this report takes a hard look at the lobbying activities of profitable Fortune 500 companies that exploit loopholes and work to distort the tax code to avoid billions of dollars in taxes.

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Blog Post

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.

News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund

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.

News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund
Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund

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. The 2016 election will likely break all previous campaign spending records. But more important than the amount of money spent is where that money is coming from. Under our current system, courting wealthy mega-donors – who often have different priorities and policy preferences than most voters – has taken precedence over appealing to everyday Americans.

Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund and Demos

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.

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