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

Elections Confidential Report Reveals Role of Dark-Money Nonprofits and Shell Corporations in 2012

Mystery donors poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the 2012 elections via nonprofits and shell corporations, despite widespread public support for disclosure and decades of legal precedent supporting the public’s right to know the sources of election-related spending. A new report from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Center for Media and Democracy found that contributions from phony for-profit corporations accounted for nearly 17 percent of all business donations to Super PACs.

> Keep Reading
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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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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News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

State, Student Leaders Launch 2010 Youth Vote Drive

Secretary of State Ken Bennett, House Majority Leader John McComish and Senate Assistant Minority Leader Rebecca Rios joined today with members of the Arizona Student Vote Coalition in a non-partisan effort to urge Arizona young people to register and vote in the upcoming primary and general elections.

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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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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.

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.

News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund
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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