Democracy For The People

Arizona PIRG 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. 

Arizona PIRG is 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 our state and our country — so more candidates for more offices focus on we, the people, instead of we, the megadonors.

 

Issue updates

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.

> Keep Reading
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. 

> Keep Reading
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 | Democracy

Citizens United Solution Unveiled

Today a series of strong reforms was introduced in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United ruling.

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News Release | Arizona PIRG | Democracy

Citizens United Opinion Widens Corporate “Personhood” Rights

By deciding that corporations should be treated in the same manner as ordinary citizens and be allowed to spend the massive amounts of money they accumulate on direct attack ads for or against Members of Congress, today the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizen’s United vs. Federal Election Commission will significantly expand the role that the most powerful corporations play in election financing.

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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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