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

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.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
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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Report | Arizona PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Saving Dollars, Saving Democracy

Following the historic 2008 election, one lesson has been well learned: The success of any election is utterly dependent on the resources and skills of our local and state-level election officials.

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News Release | Arizona PIRG | Democracy

Historic Ethics Reform Passes U.S. House

The Arizona Public Interest Research Group (Arizona PIRG) applauds today’s U.S. House vote on lobby and ethics reform.  The bill represents a momentous step toward reining in the special access and influence exerted by powerful interests in Washington, D.C.  It is without question the most significant change to the rules in a generation.

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News Release | Arizona PIRG | Democracy

Statement on the Need for Independent Ethics Enforcement - Diane E. Brown, Executive Director

The current system is broken.  Overseeing one’s own colleagues is difficult under any circumstances, but oversight in a charged partisan environment like the U.S. Congress is impossible.  This is not to say that members of Congress are any less capable than others of self-policing-- no one self-polices well.  In the Executive Branch there is an Office of Government Ethics. Businesses have outside auditors. Congress needs independent and professional oversight and enforcement of the rules.

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News Release | Arizona PIRG | Democracy

U.S. House Adopts Independent Ethics Oversight

The U.S. House of Representatives voted tonight to establish an independent Office of Congressional Ethics.  This vote was about going beyond the easy rhetoric of reform and taking a concrete step to correct what has been a dysfunctional ethics process.

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News Release | Arizona PIRG | Democracy

Study Finds States Can Teach Congress About Ethics

The states are far ahead of Congress in establishing independent ethics enforcement for legislators according to a study released today by the Arizona Public Interest Research Group (Arizona PIRG).  The report, Honest Enforcement: What Congress Can Learn From Independent State Ethics Commissions, found that twenty-three states have created commissions, boards or offices that operate largely free of partisan interference to oversee the ethics rules that apply to elected officials.

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News Release | Arizona PIRG | Democracy

U.S. House Overwhelmingly Approves First Ethics Changes

The Arizona Public Interest Research Group (Arizona PIRG) applauds the action taken by the U.S. House this evening on the first pieces of the U.S. House rules package.  Speaker Pelosi and the leadership deserve significant credit for bringing meaningful proposals to the floor.  The overwhelming support for new restrictions on lobbyist-funded trips and gifts send a powerful message that the new Congress is taking the need for reform seriously.

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