Democracy For The People

MASSPIRG 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 to 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 MASSPIRG and our fellow state PIRGs have 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 and city-by-city to build the support its going to take to win. We’ve already helped get 16 states and nearly 700 cities, counties and towns to formally tell Congress that the Constitution must be amended.

In 2012, the Massachusetts Legislature passed S772, a resolution that called for Congress to pass a constitutional Amendment to “restore the First Amendment and fair elections to the people.” Additionally, 207 out of 351 municipalities have passed similar resolutions, usually by large majorities.

However, for average citizens to take back their democracy from corporate influence, more than a call to action is needed. This is why MASSPIRG supports the We the People Bill, a joint resolution currently pending in the Massachusetts legislature that was introduced by Sen. James Eldridge and Rep. Cory Atkins. If passed, the We the People Bill would call on Congress to propose a Constitutional amendment to fix our broken democracy. If Congress fails to act within six months, the bill would officially put Massachusetts on the record calling for a convention of the states to bypass Congress and propose such an amendment itself.

Getting a constitutional amendment across the finish line won’t be easy, but it’s what’s necessary to reclaim our democracy. 

Amplifying The Voices Of Small Donors

While overturning Citizens United is the long term goal, we're working in the meantime to amplify the voices of ordinary people in our elections. 

On the national level, the PIRGs are 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:

  • The Government By the People Act encourages more people to participate by giving small donors a $50 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.

The bill currently has 160 cosponors in the House of Representatives and 19 cosponors for the Senate equivalent, the Fair Elections Now Act.  In Massachusetts, MASSPIRG helped to secure the support of eight of our nine representatives for the House bill: Congress people, Jim McGovern, Niki Tsongas, Seth Moulton, Katherine Clark, Joseph Kennedy III, Michael Capuano, William Keating, and Stephen Lynch. Additionally, both Senators Markey and Warren are supporters of the Senate bill.

Such programs are feasible; 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 the PIRGs are working with cities and towns across the country to establish small donor incentive programs of their own to add to the list of successful programs the have already been established.

We can win real changes now in how elections are funded throughout Massachusetts and America. With your help, we can win real changes now in how elections are funded throughout Massachusetts and 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

News Release | MASSPIRG | Democracy

Massachusetts Election Modernization Coalition Statement on Early Voting Costs

In response to a Politico Massachusetts article, released yesterday, titled Cities and towns fret over costs of early voting,” the Massachusetts Election Modernization Coalition has released a statement clarifying our position.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Statement from the Election Modernization Coalition Praising Boston's Early Voting Efforts | Janet Domenitz

In an election year that promises to have record turnout, access to the polls will be more important than ever. That is why the Election Modernization Coalition is pleased that the City of Boston has released today a citizen’s survey to inform their early voting plan for this fall. 

> Keep Reading
Result | Democracy

Winning voter reforms in Massachusetts

MASSPIRG helped win two important reforms to engage new voters and give all citizens an equal opportunity to vote. We fought for and won online voter registration, which allows residents with state IDs or driver’s licenses to register to vote online. We also won early voting, which allows residents to vote 11 business days before Election Day.   

> Keep Reading
News Release | MASSPIRG | Democracy

LEGISLATURE PASSES CRITICAL PUBLIC RECORDS REFORM BILL

The Massachusetts House and senate voted unanimously in support of H.4333, a much needed overhaul of the Commonwealth's public records law, which has not been updated since 1973. The bill strengthens state and local government transparency and accountability, and promotes citizen participation.

> Keep Reading
News Release | MASSPIRG | Democracy

House Passes Critical Public Records Reform Bill

The Massachusetts House voted unanimously in support of H.4333, a much needed overhaul of the Commonwealth's public records law, which has not been updated since 1973. The bill strengthens state and local government transparency and accountability, and promotes citizen participation.

> Keep Reading

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News Release | MASSPIRG | Democracy

LEGISLATURE PASSES CRITICAL PUBLIC RECORDS REFORM BILL

The Massachusetts House and senate voted unanimously in support of H.4333, a much needed overhaul of the Commonwealth's public records law, which has not been updated since 1973. The bill strengthens state and local government transparency and accountability, and promotes citizen participation.

> Keep Reading
News Release | MASSPIRG | Democracy

House Passes Critical Public Records Reform Bill

The Massachusetts House voted unanimously in support of H.4333, a much needed overhaul of the Commonwealth's public records law, which has not been updated since 1973. The bill strengthens state and local government transparency and accountability, and promotes citizen participation.

> Keep Reading
Media Hit | Democracy

Remove voter barrier, establish automatic registration

The Feb. 10th deadline to register to vote in the Massachusetts state primary has passed, leaving many eligible voters, once again, out of the democratic process.

> Keep Reading
Media Hit | Democracy

Opportunities for real reform of Citizens United

January isn't dark just because of the weather. This month, the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision turns six, marking another year of mega-donor politics and secret political spending. It's the same court decision that determined money is speech and corporations are people, both concepts fundamentally at odds with a democratic system of government and basic common sense.

> Keep Reading
News Release | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Election Modernization Coalition Launches Early Voting Training Program

Anticipating that the 2016 presidential election will draw many voters to the polls, the Election Modernization Coalition last night launched the first in a series of trainings to prime activists working to expand a new reform in the Commonwealth: early voting. Over 50 people from around the state gathered in Boston to attend this training and get the tools they need to make early voting work in their own cities and towns, which have significant latitude under the new law.

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Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund 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 | MASSPIRG Education Fund | 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 | MASSPIRG, DEMOS | Democracy

"MCCUTCHEON" COULD ADD OVER $1 BILLION IN CONTRIBUTIONS TO NEXT FOUR ELECTIONS

We project that striking the aggregate contribution limit would bring more than $1 billion in additional campaign contributions from elite donors through the 2020 election cycle.

> Keep Reading
Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund and Demos | Democracy

Billion Dollar Democracy

The first presidential election since Citizens United lived up to its hype, with unprecedented outside spending from new sources making headlines.

Demos and U.S. PIRG analysis of reports from campaigns, parties, and outside spenders to the Federal Election Commission found that our big money system distorts democracy and creates clear winners and losers.

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Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Million-Dollar Megaphones

Outside spending by organizations that aggregate unlimited contributions from wealthy individuals and institutions is playing a significant role in the 2012 election cycle, and much of it is not disclosed.

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Blog Post | Democracy

Reasons to support H.3665 and Improving our Public Records law | Deirdre Cummings

It is time to bring our public records law into the 21st century with the substantial reforms contained in H.3665.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

MASSPIRG Legislative Director Deirdre Cummings' Testimony in support of improving access to public records | Deirdre Cummings

 

Transparency in government is the cornerstone to a strong democracy. Government transparency checks corruption, promotes fiscal responsibility and efficiency, and allows for greater, more meaningful participation in our democratic system.

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Blog Post | Democracy

Statement of Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG Legislative Director, on the occasion of the anniversary of the Supreme Court v. McCutcheon decision | Deirdre Cummings

MASSPIRG calls on President Obama to issue an executive order requiring disclosure of election contributions made by federal contractors.

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Blog Post | Democracy

Press Conference for New Report Documents Big Donor Dominance in 2014 Congressional Elections | Ben Martin-McDonough

As the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision approaches, MASSPIRG and Demos have co-authored a report, “The Money Chase: Moving from Big Donor Dominance to a Small Donor Democracy.”

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Election Modernization Bill Passes in Massachusetts | Janet Domenitz

Online Voter Registration Brings Massachusetts into the 21st Century

> Keep Reading

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