Democracy For The People

OSPIRG is pushing back against big money in our elections and working to institute a system 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: Call it 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 — donors who each gave 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. 

Taking Back Our Democracy

It’s time to reclaim our elections. That's why U.S. PIRG has launched our Democracy For The People campaign.

Our campaign seeks to overturn the Citizens United decision. We want to pass an amendment to our Constitution declaring that corporations are not people, money is not speech, and our elections are not for sale. To do so, we’re going state-by-state, city-by-city to build the support its going to take to win. We’ve already helped get 16 states and nearly 600 cities, counties and towns to formally tell Congress that the Constitution must be amended. Getting this across the finish line won’t be easy, but it’s what’s necessary to reclaim our democracy.

In the meantime, we're working to amplify the voices of ordinary people in our elections. So we're also working to create systems of incentives and matching funds for small contributions — systems that are already in place in some cities and counties.  

Amplifying The Voices Of Small Donors

We’re building support for the Government By the People Act, a bill in Congress which will help bring more small donors into our elections, and increase their impact. Here’s how:

  • Government By the People Act encourages more people to participate by giving small donors a $25 credit on their taxes.
  • The Act increases the impact of small donations by creating a fund that will match those donations at least 6-to-1 if a candidate agrees to forego large contributions.

It’s possible to enact programs like this, in fact there was a similar federal tax credit in place from 1971 to 1986.  And more recently, cities like New York have passed small donor programs and seen real results. For example, in the 2013 New York City Council races small donors were responsible for 61 percent of the participating candidates’ contributions (once matching funds were factored in), making small donors the largest source of campaign cash. Their big-money opponents got only 19 percent of their contributions from small donors.

We need more success stories like these if we are going to build momentum for change. That’s why we’re working with cities and towns across the country to establish small donor incentive programs of their own.

With your help, we can win real changes now in how elections are funded throughout America — so more candidates for more offices focus on we, the people, and not just the mega-donors and Super PACs who are undermining our democracy and the principles upon which it stands.

Issue updates

Report | OSPIRG Foundation | Democracy

Democracy for the People

Candidates in the 2016 presidential race could see a dramatic shift in fundraising under a small donor empowerment program, according to a new study by OSPIRG Foundation.

> Keep Reading
Result | Democracy

Giving more Americans a greater voice in our elections

In our democracy, the size of your wallet shouldn’t determine the volume of your voice. In 2015, we helped win reforms in Maine and Seattle to ensure that more Americans have a greater say in our elections. Seattle’s Initiative-122 empowers small donors with “democracy vouchers” that can be donated to local candidates and lowers the cap on contributions. In Maine, the state’s Clean Elections Act was improved by strengthening campaign finance disclosure laws and offering qualifying candidates increased public funding.

> Keep Reading
Report | OSPIRG Foundation | Democracy

BOOSTING THE IMPACT OF SMALL DONORS

Candidates in the 2016 presidential race would see a dramatic shift in their fundraising, and have a powerful incentive to focus more on small donors under a proposed small donor public financing system, according to a new study released by OSPIRG Foundation.

> Keep Reading
Report | OSPIRG | Democracy

FIGHTING BIG MONEY, EMPOWERING PEOPLE

Steps the next President of the United States can take to get big money out of politics and restore the health of our democracy.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | OSPIRG | Democracy, Tax

Companies Paid More to Lobby Congress than they did in Taxes

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

> Keep Reading
News Release | OSPIRG | Democracy

Oregon youth lead in increasing voter turnout.

After playing a pivotal role in voter registration and turnout this past November young people are continuing their electoral work by heading down to Salem Tuesday to lobby in support of  HB 2386 which directs the Secretary of State to adopt an electronic voter registration system.

> Keep Reading
News Release | OSPIRG | Democracy

Online registration passes Oregon Senate

  The Oregon Senate overwhelmingly passed HB 2386, which would allow Oregonians with valid drivers’ licenses to register to vote on a secure, Secretary of State-hosted website. 

> Keep Reading

Pages

Report | OSPIRG Foundation | Democracy, Tax

Representation without Taxation

Two years ago, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision opened the floodgates to corporate influence in our political system by allowing corporations to pour money from their treasuries into the campaign coffers of political candidates. This report examines one area of policymaking where corporate money already had an enormous impact even before that decision: tax law. 

> Keep Reading
Report | OSPIRG Foundation | Budget, Democracy, Tax

Following the Money 2011

Second annual look at how well all 50 states are doing in providing online access to government spending data. Oregon's grade has improved dramatically from last year to this year.

> Keep Reading
Report | OSPIRG Foundation | Budget, Democracy, Tax

Accessibility of Public Records Relating to Oregon’s Economic Development Tax Expenditures

OSPIRG white paper on accessibility of Oregon's economic development tax expenditures through public records requests. Barriers of cost, lengthy delays and exemptions to the public records law show that the average citizen can not access this information easily.

> Keep Reading
Report | OSPIRG Foundation | Budget, Democracy, Tax

Getting the Best Bang for Your Buck

This report examines the tax subsidies that corporations benefit from in Oregon, what we know about them, and what we don't. The report provides recommendations for improving transparency and accountability of Oregon's tax subsidies.

> Keep Reading
Report | OSPIRG Foundation | Budget, Democracy, Tax

Letting the Sunlight In

At least 30 quasi-public agencies in Oregon perform public functions, overseeing billions of dollars in their budgets. However, they operate with far less transparency and public accountability than other state agencies. Requiring quasi-public agencies to publish detailed financial information on the state transparency website is an easy and cost-effective way for Oregon to benefit from increased transparency.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | U.S. PIRG

The House of Representatives passed a package of democracy reform legislation (H.R. 1) on Wednesday night that features important proposals to improve the health of America’s democracy. The bill would increase participation in the voting process and disclosures on secret political spending as well as reform redistricting practices. It would also create a small donor empowerment system for federal elections, which would help combat the overwhelming influence of big money in politics.

News Release | OSPIRG

 

The Oregon Supreme Court has affirmed the constitutionality of campaign contribution limits in Oregon. The ruling that the court issued Thursday in Multnomah County v Mehrwein overturned previous precedent from the 1997 decision Vanetta v Keisling. 

Report | U.S. PIRG

U.S. PIRG analyzed the campaign finance reports from 2020 candidates. We found that small donations, and the people who provide them, have a significant voice in the presidential race.

Blog Post

How did your state representatives vote on issues that affect your health, safety and well-being?

Blog Post

On March 3rd, the state legislature adjourned a four-week “short session.” See how our main priorities fared in the legislature.

Democracy

A somber anniversary: 10 years after the Citizens United decision

January 15th marked the 10th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, widely blamed for opening the floodgates to special interest spending in our elections. U.S. legislators joined PIRG and other pro-democracy organizations to decry the ongoing harm caused by the ruling—and to highlight the growth of the pro-reform movement. 

 

Democracy | U.S. PIRG

Small donors are driving the 2020 presidential race

For years, it has been impossible to run for office without relying heavily on large dollar donations. While big money still has disproportionate influence, a combination of technological and cultural changes have made it possible for candidates for president to run for office while relying primarily on small-donor money.

 

Democracy | OSPIRG

OSPIRG 2019 Legislative Scorecard

We've compiled our scorecard as a tool for the public to know how your lawmakers voted on key public interest issues. This year, we scored 12 bills and our citizen outreach team is delivering them to doors throughout the state.

 
View AllRSS Feed

Join Our Call

Tell your representative to stand up for our democracy, and amplify the voices of small donors in our elections.

Support Us

Your donation supports OSPIRG’s work to stand up for consumers on the issues that matter, especially when powerful interests are blocking progress.

Consumer Alerts

Join our network and stay up to date on our campaigns, get important consumer updates, and take action on critical issues.
Optional Member Code



OSPIRG is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to social change.