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

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

News Release | OSPIRG | Democracy

OSPIRG Statement on Multnomah County v Mehrwein

 

The Oregon Supreme Court has affirmed the constitutionality of campaign contribution limits in Oregon. The ruling that the court issued Thursday in Multnomah County v Mehrwein overturned previous precedent from the 1997 decision Vanetta v Keisling. 

> Keep Reading
Report | OSPIRG Foundation & Frontier Group | Democracy

Big Money in Oregon State Elections

The influence of big money on politics drowns out the voices of regular Oregonians and makes it difficult or impossible for qualified candidates to run for office without access to deep-pocketed donors. We need our government to be open to everyone, regardless the size of their wallet or connections to big donors.

> Keep Reading
Report | OSPIRG Foundation | Democracy

Oregon’s Multi-Million Dollar Democracy

It is well-established that Oregon’s elections often attract large donors from both within and outside the state and that this is all permissible through a combination of state and federal court decisions as well as Oregon’s longstanding lack of campaign finance regulation. 

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | OSPIRG | Democracy

OSPIRG Statement on Multnomah County v Mehrwein

 

The Oregon Supreme Court has affirmed the constitutionality of campaign contribution limits in Oregon. The ruling that the court issued Thursday in Multnomah County v Mehrwein overturned previous precedent from the 1997 decision Vanetta v Keisling. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | OSPIRG Foundation | Democracy

New Study: Small Donor Matching Program Would Incentivize Shift in 2016 Presidential Fundraising Strategies

Candidates in the 2016 presidential race would see a dramatic shift in fundraising success under a proposed small donor public financing system, according to a study released on Wednesday by OSPIRG Foundation.

> 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
News Release | OSPIRG Foundation | Democracy, Tax

Companies Paid More to Lobby Congress than they did in Taxes

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 – OSPIRG and Citizens for Tax Justice reveal 30 corporations that spent more to lobby Congress than they did in taxes.

> Keep Reading
Report | OSPIRG Foundation & Frontier Group | Democracy

Big Money in Oregon State Elections

The influence of big money on politics drowns out the voices of regular Oregonians and makes it difficult or impossible for qualified candidates to run for office without access to deep-pocketed donors. We need our government to be open to everyone, regardless the size of their wallet or connections to big donors.

> Keep Reading
Report | OSPIRG Foundation | Democracy

Oregon’s Multi-Million Dollar Democracy

It is well-established that Oregon’s elections often attract large donors from both within and outside the state and that this is all permissible through a combination of state and federal court decisions as well as Oregon’s longstanding lack of campaign finance regulation. 

> Keep Reading
Report | OSPIRG Foundation | Democracy

Democracy for the People

Candidates in the 2016 presidential race could see a dramatic shift in fundraising under a small donor empowerment program, according to a new study by OSPIRG Foundation.

> Keep Reading
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

Pages

News Release | OSPIRG

 

The Oregon Supreme Court has affirmed the constitutionality of campaign contribution limits in Oregon. The ruling that the court issued Thursday in Multnomah County v Mehrwein overturned previous precedent from the 1997 decision Vanetta v Keisling. 

Report | OSPIRG Foundation & Frontier Group

The influence of big money on politics drowns out the voices of regular Oregonians and makes it difficult or impossible for qualified candidates to run for office without access to deep-pocketed donors. We need our government to be open to everyone, regardless the size of their wallet or connections to big donors.

Report | OSPIRG Foundation

It is well-established that Oregon’s elections often attract large donors from both within and outside the state and that this is all permissible through a combination of state and federal court decisions as well as Oregon’s longstanding lack of campaign finance regulation. 

Less has been written, however, about the disparity between large and small donors in Oregon. To shine some light on this aspect of our elections, OSPIRG Foundation staff examined cash contributions from individuals, business entities, labor organizations and nonprofits reported to Oregon’s campaign finance reporting system (ORESTAR) by Oregon ballot and candidate committees between January 1 and November 4, 2014.  

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