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

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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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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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

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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News Release | Arizona PIRG | Democracy

The DISCLOSE Act is Introduced in Response to a Recent U.S. Supreme Court Decision

Today saw the introduction of the long-awaited legislative reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission.

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News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Know Your Voting Rights

Know Your Voting Rights includes information for young and other voters as they head to the polls.

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News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

The Arizona Student Vote Coalition

Since 2004, members of the Arizona Student Vote Coalition, comprised of the Arizona Public Interest Research Group (Arizona PIRG), the Arizona Students’ Association and student governments from state universities, has registered 18-30 year olds and made personalized, peer-to-peer contacts to turn young people out to the polls.

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News Release | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Voting 101

Voting 101 includes information on why young people don't vote, why young people are often ignored, and why young people shouldn't be ignored.

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News Release | Arizona PIRG | Democracy

New Lobbying & Ethics Rules To Become Federal Law

Today the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 will become law. The Act represents far reaching changes to the lobbying and ethics rules that govern the interactions between lobbyists and legislators.

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News Release | Arizona PIRG | Democracy

Statement of Diane E. Brown, Executive Director, on U.S. Senate Passage of Landmark Lobby and Ethics Reform

Today’s vote in the U.S. Senate was a very good win for the American people.  Following the U.S. House action earlier this week, the landmark bill now heads to the President’s desk where we expect he will sign the bill. The reforms passed this week represent the most sweeping changes to the rules on lobbyists in a generation. 

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