Democracy For The People

OSPIRG 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

OSPIRG Foundation is pushing back against big money in our elections and building support for a system of small donor incentive programs to amplify the voices of Oregonians over corporations, Super PACs and the super wealthy. Our goals are as follows:

• Identify local elected officials, community leaders and organizations who are sympathetic to the problem and interested in small donor incentive solutions.

• Customize small donor policy frameworks already adopted by localities, such as New York City, for use by Oregon governments.

• Publish research to help the public and opinion leaders understand the widening gulf between the largest donors and small donors, and the impact of our campaign finance system on public trust in the political system.

Together, we can win real changes now in how elections are funded in Oregon and throughout America — so more candidates for more offices focus on we, the people, instead of we, the megadonors.

 

Issue updates

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 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 | OSPIRG 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 | OSPIRG Foundation | Democracy

Most Super PAC Money is Funded by Less than 1% of the 1%

The vast majority of Super PACs are funded by less than 1% of the 1%, according to a new report entitled “Auctioning Democracy”, coauthored by OSPIRG Foundation and Demos.

> Keep Reading
Report | OSPIRG Foundation | Democracy

Auctioning Democracy

The vast majority of Super PACs are funded by less than 1% of the 1%, according to a new report entitled “Auctioning Democracy”.

> Keep Reading

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Report | OSPIRG 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 | OSPIRG Foundation | Democracy

Auctioning Democracy

The vast majority of Super PACs are funded by less than 1% of the 1%, according to a new report entitled “Auctioning Democracy”.

> Keep Reading
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. 

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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.

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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.

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