Democracy For The People

WISPIRG Foundation 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 | WISPIRG Foundation | Democracy

REPORT: 61% of Money in WI Senate Race Comes from Out-of-State

A new report by the WISPIRG Foundation and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund shows that 77 percent of funding in the 34 U.S. senate races happening nationwide comes from out-of-state. Outside Influence: Out-of-State Money in the 2016 Senate Elections highlights the share of money that candidates, PACs, super PACs, and party committees have raised from outside the state they are spending on. In Wisconsin, the report finds that 61 percent of election funding in this year’s U.S. senate race comes from out-of-state.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Outside Influence: Out-of-state money in the 2016 senate elections

Control of the United States Senate is at stake in the 2016 elections. Out of 34 senate races nationally, the outcome could be decided by just several swing states and a few key constituencies. But there is another deciding factor in this year’s race for the senate: money.

> Keep Reading
Report | WISPIRG Foundation and Demos | Democracy

The Dominance of Big Money in the 2014 Congressional Elections

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.

> Keep Reading
Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Democracy

Big Money Dominates in Congressional Primaries

Our analysis of fund-raising data from 2014’s congressional primaries examines the way these dynamics are playing out state by state across the country. While some states show markedly more inequity than others, the picture painted by the data is of a primary money race where large donors carry more weight than ordinary Americans. Nationwide, just under two-thirds of all candidate contributions came from the largest donors (those giving over $1,000). And fewer than 5,500 large donors matched the primary contributions coming from at least 440,000 donors nationwide.

> Keep Reading
News Release | WISPIRG | Democracy

Over 18,000 Wisconsinites Call for a Statewide Vote on Citizens United

In just the early stages of a coalition drive to get a statewide referendum on Citizens United for the people of Wisconsin, over 18,000 Wisconsinites have signed a petition calling on the Legislature to put the issue to the people. Since the Supreme Court's disastrous 2010 ruling, every election at the state and national level has been subject to a new flood of special interest cash as individuals, corporations, and unions can now use Super PACs to financially support their preferred candidates without limits. This creates an unlevel playing field for all Americans trying to have their voice heard in our democratic process and grants disproportionate to wealthy, powerful special interests. The people of Wisconsin deserve a direct, citizens vote to weigh in on the nature of our elections.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Democracy

REPORT: 61% of Money in WI Senate Race Comes from Out-of-State

A new report by the WISPIRG Foundation and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund shows that 77 percent of funding in the 34 U.S. senate races happening nationwide comes from out-of-state. Outside Influence: Out-of-State Money in the 2016 Senate Elections highlights the share of money that candidates, PACs, super PACs, and party committees have raised from outside the state they are spending on. In Wisconsin, the report finds that 61 percent of election funding in this year’s U.S. senate race comes from out-of-state.

> Keep Reading
News Release | WISPIRG | Democracy

Over 18,000 Wisconsinites Call for a Statewide Vote on Citizens United

In just the early stages of a coalition drive to get a statewide referendum on Citizens United for the people of Wisconsin, over 18,000 Wisconsinites have signed a petition calling on the Legislature to put the issue to the people. Since the Supreme Court's disastrous 2010 ruling, every election at the state and national level has been subject to a new flood of special interest cash as individuals, corporations, and unions can now use Super PACs to financially support their preferred candidates without limits. This creates an unlevel playing field for all Americans trying to have their voice heard in our democratic process and grants disproportionate to wealthy, powerful special interests. The people of Wisconsin deserve a direct, citizens vote to weigh in on the nature of our elections.

> Keep Reading
News Release | WISPIRG | Democracy

Distorted Democracy: Big Money and Dark Money in the 2012 Elections

Outside spending on the Wisconsin senatorial race is the third highest of any race in the nation, at over $30 million. Only the presidential race and the campaign for Virginia's senate seat have seen more outside money pouring in to influence voters. This new analysis of pre-election data from the Federal Election Commission and other sources shows that outside spending in the first presidential election cycle since Citizens United is living up to the hype. With no limits on campaign spending Super PACs and Dark Money groups have used massive donations from a small number of wealthy donors to flood our elections with at least $1.1 billion dollars in outside spending. This new data is an update to the Million Dollar Megaphones report released in September, with new data on the last two months of election spending.

> Keep Reading
Media Hit | Democracy

Super PACs, secret donors dominate 2012 campaign in WI

The Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) has found that Super PACs and other groups, whose donors often remain anonymous, have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to persuade voters in presidential battleground states like Wisconsin.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Result | Democracy

Registering Young Voters

During the past four election cycles, WISPIRG’s New Voters Project has registered more than 160,000 18- to 24-year-olds and increased voter participation among young voters.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Outside Influence: Out-of-state money in the 2016 senate elections

Control of the United States Senate is at stake in the 2016 elections. Out of 34 senate races nationally, the outcome could be decided by just several swing states and a few key constituencies. But there is another deciding factor in this year’s race for the senate: money.

> Keep Reading
Report | WISPIRG Foundation and Demos | Democracy

The Dominance of Big Money in the 2014 Congressional Elections

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.

> Keep Reading
Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Democracy

Big Money Dominates in Congressional Primaries

Our analysis of fund-raising data from 2014’s congressional primaries examines the way these dynamics are playing out state by state across the country. While some states show markedly more inequity than others, the picture painted by the data is of a primary money race where large donors carry more weight than ordinary Americans. Nationwide, just under two-thirds of all candidate contributions came from the largest donors (those giving over $1,000). And fewer than 5,500 large donors matched the primary contributions coming from at least 440,000 donors nationwide.

> Keep Reading
Report | WISPIRG Foundation, People for the American Way Foundation | Democracy

Outside Spending, Outsized Influence

Super PACs dominated the 2012 Senate election between Tammy Baldwin and Tommy Thompson, providing an avenue for floods of out-of-state money to fill WIsconsin's airwaves with negative ads. Outside groups (not the candidates or party committees) spent almost $32 million and virtually all of that money (99.2%) came from out of state groups. Super PACs allowed big money special interests to flood the Wisconsin elections, blocking regular WI voter out of the political discourse.

> Keep Reading
Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Center for Media and Democracy | Democracy

Elections Confidential

Elections Confidential reveals, to the extent possible, the dark side of the post-Citizens United election landscape. Secret donors used "dark money" groups that don't have to disclose their donors, because before Citizens United they weren't allowed to spend on elections in order to hide their identity.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Democracy

Call on the WI Legislature to Put it to the People on Citizens United

Citizens United is undermining the very principals of our democracy.

Click Here to demand a people's referendum so that the people of WI can vote on this issue.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Voters Reject Big Money in Politics, Now It’s Time for Reform

Voters sent a message last Tuesday, showing resounding support for our leaders to take steps to deal with the outsized influence of big money in our elections, including a resolution passed in Eau Claire County, WI endorsing a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United.

> Keep Reading
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