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

Wealthy donors have always had an outsized influence in our democracy, but misguided jurisprudence, like the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, has opened the floodgates for mega donations and corporate spending in our elections.

Spending on political races has skyrocketed, and running for office has never been more expensive. The 2020 election cycle was the most expensive in U.S. history with over $14 billion spent. As a result, unless candidates are independently wealthy, they often need to court contributions from mega-donors or corporate interests to be competitive in their races.

Our currect campaign finance system gives a very small number of people massive influence on who runs for office and, often, what issues they decide to talk about. In 2016, fewer than 400 families gave more than half of all of the money raised in the presidential race. That’s not how our democracy is supposed to work. Our democracy is supposed to be based on the principle of one person, one vote.

Ultimately, we need to overturn Citizens United and make other systemic changes if we want to get big money out of our elections. But large-scale changes like these take time, public pressure, and elected leaders who are committed to making it happen. That’s why we’re researching and supporting small donor empowerment programs, that will bring power back to the people.

It's time to reclaim our democracy and bring it back to the principle of one person, one vote. 

RECLAIMING OUR DEMOCRACY

Small donor publc financing programs match contributions of ordinary people with public funds. Candidates access these funds when they opt into the program and refuse to take large and corporate contributions. This means anyone with enough public support can run for office, those candidates can raise enough money to be competitive, and they will be answerable to their constituents, not a handful of mega-donors and corporations.

Communites across Maryland have established small donor public financing to give everyone a voice in our elections and keep big money out.  Montgomery County's program was in effect for the first time for the 2018 elections. To participate, candidates must reject contributions over $150 and money from corporations. Maryland PIRG Foundation analysis found:

  • Candidates who had qualified received nearly twice as many donations from Montgomery County residents than those not participating.
  • Those not participating received only 8 percent of their donations from people giving less than $150, while those participating received more than 90 percent of their donations from people giving less than $150.
  • By the June primary, more than half of all candidates, over 30 total, participated in the program. Ultimately, 22 qualified for the program — candidates from both parties and from a wide range of backgrounds who were able to run competitive campaigns based on support from the communities, not large donors.  

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

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
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.

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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.

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Media Hit | Democracy

Secret Money Pours into Election

New report details secret money pouring into Wisconsin elections. Outside spending organizations reported $167.5 million in spending to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). “The most disturbing thing that we found was that the vast majority of super PAC money and outside spending in our elections is coming from just a few people, just a few very, very wealthy people.”

> Keep Reading
News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Democracy

AS SECRET MONEY POURS INTO WISCONSIN, NEW REPORT DETAILS LATEST NUMBERS ON OUTSIDE SPENDING FOR 2012 ELECTIONS

Outside spending on the Wisconsin senatorial race has already exceeded $4.5 million. With the presidential campaign heating up and Wisconsin named as a battleground state, more secret money is expected to flow into the state to influence the votes of Wisconsinites. Much about who funds these efforts and how this funding is spent remains a mystery, according to a report analyzing the latest campaign filings.

> Keep Reading
Media Hit | Democracy

Campaign 2012 News Conference: WISPIRG, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign on Campaign Spending Reform

A coalition of Wisconsin leaders and organizations is calling on Republican Governor Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Tom Barrett to pledge to the people of Wisconsin that they will take action, call a special session and provide Wisconsinites full disclosure of the source of campaign dollars and issue ads for state races and close loopholes that allow unlimited campaign fundraising. 

Click on the title above to watch the press conference on Wisconsin Eye.

 

> Keep Reading
News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Democracy

Wisconsinites Call on Barrett, Walker to Pledge ‘Special Legislative Session to Protect our Democracy’

A coalition of Wisconsin leaders and organizations is calling on Republican Governor Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Tom Barrett to pledge to the people of Wisconsin that they will take action, call a special session and provide Wisconsinites full disclosure of the source of campaign dollars and issue ads for state races and close loopholes that allow unlimited campaign fundraising. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | WISPIRG Foundation | Democracy, Tax

Representation Without Taxation

Madison, January 18, 2012 – 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 – WISPIRG and Citizens for Tax Justice reveal 30 corporations that spent more to lobby Congress than they did in taxes.

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Report | WISPIRG FOundation and Demos | Democracy

Billion Dollar Democracy

Billion Dollar Democracy is the final edition in our series of reports analyzing the role of money in the 2012 elections. The first presidential election since Citizens United lived up to the hype, with outside groups blowing away previous records for spending. Our discourse got more negative than ever before, with secret organizations allowing anonymous donors to bankroll nasty attack ads. Regular people's voices were drowned out of the process, with big time mega-donors spending millions in their attempt to buy our democracy.

> Keep Reading
Report | WISPIRG and Demos | Democracy

Distorted Democracy: Post-Election Spending Analysis

New analysis of Federal Election Commission data through Election Day shows that just a few big outside spenders drowned out small donors in the 2012 election cycle. The Supreme Court's Citizens United allows wealthy special interests to amplify their voices far above the average citizen. This will continue the cycle of major donors receiving the greatest political access and setting the agenda for our government in Washington and in Madison, interfering with our government's ability to function in the best interests of the public at-large.

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Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Democracy

Million Dollar Megaphones

Outside spending on the Wisconsin senatorial race has already exceeded $4.5 million. With the presidential campaign heating up and Wisconsin named as a battleground state, more secret money is expected to flow into the state to influence the votes of Wisconsinites. Much about who funds these efforts and how this funding is spent remains a mystery, according to a report analyzing the latest campaign filings. This report provides a detailed analysis of Federal Election Commission (FEC) data and secondary sources on outside spending and Super PAC fundraising for 2012 election cycle.

> Keep Reading
Report | WISPIRG Foundation | Democracy, Tax

Representation Without Taxation

Marking the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United vs. FEC 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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Blog Post

Simple steps to participate in democracy and preserve your health.

Blog Post

There was no excuse for disenfranchising and endangering Wisconsinites on April 7. Seven months from today, there will be no excuse for unprepared or unwilling elected officials failing their constituents, either.

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

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.

News Release | WISPIRG Foundation

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.

Report | WISPIRG Foundation and Demos

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.

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