Shaping A Government Accountable to the People
How our government collects and spends money is critically important. Tax and budget decisions are the most concrete way that communities declare priorities and balance competing values.
Unfortunately, government decisions about how to raise revenue and support public functions often fail to best advance the public interest. Too often, public subsidies, tax breaks or special deals are granted to powerful corporate interests at the taxpayers’ expense. When this happens, taxpayers are stuck with the tab, or public resources and services end up threatened.
It is not possible to ensure that government decisions are fair and efficient unless information is publicly accessible. Likewise, public officials and private companies that receive contracts and subsidies must be held accountable for delivering promised goods and services.
Transparency in government spending checks corruption, promotes fiscal responsibility, and allows for greater, more meaningful participation in our democratic system. WISPIRG Foundation is working to advance these goals on a variety of fronts:
- Promoting public access to online information about government spending at a detailed "checkbook" level including contracts, subsidies and "off-budget" agencies. WISPIRG Foundation's 2016 Following The Money report is the seventh annual scorecard of state's online budget transparency. This latest scorecard finds that states continue to make progress toward comprehensive, one-stop, one-click transparency and accountability for state government spending, but some states are lagging and in all states there are opportunities to expand transparency to include economic development subsidies and quasi-public agencies.
- Ensuring that companies that receive public subsidies are held accountable for delivering clear benefits or required to return public dollars.
- Protecting against bad privatization deals that sell off public assets on the cheap and diminish public control of vital public structures such as toll roads, parking systems and traffic enforcement.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Your tax-deductible donation supports WISPIRG Foundation's work to educate consumers on the issues that matter, and to stand up to the powerful interests that are blocking progress.
You can also support WISPIRG Foundation’s work through bequests, contributions from life insurance or retirement plans, securities contributions and vehicle donations.