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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Your tax-deductible donation supports OSPIRG Foundation’s work to educate consumers on the issues that matter, and the powerful interests that are blocking progress.
You can also support OSPIRG Foundation’s work through bequests, contributions from life insurance or retirement plans, securities contributions and vehicle donations.