Democracy For The People

CALPIRG Education Fund 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

Small donor empowerment programs that encourage the participation of the average American in the political system are a key weapon in the fight to reclaim our democracy. These programs provide public matching funds to campaigns for small donations and offer tax credits to encourage everyday citizens to make small campaign contributions.  

These programs can help focus candidates for office on seeking the broad support of the public rather than the narrow support of a few moneyed interests and help bring more ordinary citizens into the process. Their track record is impressive – for example, under New York City’s program, in 2013 participating City Council candidates got 61% of their contributions from small donations and matching funds, and in 2011, all but two winning city councilors used matching funds. If enacted nationally, a similar program could fundamentally shift the balance of power in our elections from mega-donors, back to ordinary citizens.

That’s why we’re working with our national coalition to educate citizens about the solutions that we can act on now to amplify their voices above the voices of megadonors and special interests. By assembling a broad coalition of support, educating and mobilizing citizens and digging deep into the impact of big money in our elections with our reports, we’re bringing democracy back to the people.

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 | CALPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

New Report Highlights Opportunities to Welcome Underrepresented California Youth onto Voter Rolls

As preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds goes live in California, we want all eligible and willing California youth added to the voter rolls on their 18th birthday, at their current address, and armed with knowledge about how to participate in elections. That’s a big undertaking that will require strategic outreach, education, and communication with youth across the state. 

> Keep Reading
Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Path to the Polls

Starting in the fall of 2016, 16- and 17-year-olds in California will be allowed to “preregister” to vote, ensuring that they are listed on the voter rolls the moment they turn 18. Voter preregistration provides California with an opportunity to improve young voter participation, but state and local officials must take proactive steps in order to make preregistration a success.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

California Colleges Commit to Supporting Voter Engagement | Emily Rusch

Earlier this week the Secretary of State announced a groundbreaking new partnership with Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and all three public systems of higher education to encourage eligible students to register and vote. CALPIRG Education Fund's New Voters Project is proud to have played a supporting role in the project.

> Keep Reading
Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Millenial Online Voter Registration

Since the launch of online voter registration (OVR) in 2012, best practices have emerged that maximize the impact of online voter registration for getting youth from college campuses across the state onto the voter rolls.  Youth voter engagement has been identified as a problem of emerging concern by public and community leaders.  Only 8% of eligible youth participated in the historically low voter turnout elections of 2014.

> Keep Reading
Report | CALPIRG 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

Pages

News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

New Report Highlights Opportunities to Welcome Underrepresented California Youth onto Voter Rolls

As preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds goes live in California, we want all eligible and willing California youth added to the voter rolls on their 18th birthday, at their current address, and armed with knowledge about how to participate in elections. That’s a big undertaking that will require strategic outreach, education, and communication with youth across the state. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Governor's Race Dominated by Big Money

CALPIRG's new analysis shows that big donors have accounted for nearly 98% of all contributions from individuals and businesses in California in the governor's race. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Big Money Playing an Outsized Role in California Elections

Primary elections suffer from the same disparity between big money and small money as general elections: even leaving aside Super-PAC-dominated outside spending, candidates relying on small contributions from ordinary citizens are often at a disadvantage compared to those relying on large, often out-of-district donors, or able to self-finance. 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.  

> Keep Reading
News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Statewide Student Coalition Kicks Off Voter Engagement Campaign

Berkeley, CA – A student coalition that includes statewide student government leaders from all three California public higher education systems and CALPIRG’s New Voters Project gathered at UC Berkeley on National Voter Registration Day to kick off their youth voter mobilization campaign across the state. At the event, CALPIRG Education Fund released the results of their student survey on voting, The Voting Intentions and Opinions of Students.  

> Keep Reading
Media Hit | Democracy

Reformers in California assail Supreme Court campaign-finance decision

“We’ve seen what’s happening in Sacramento right now with pay-to-play politics. With this decision, the Supreme Court is codifying pay-to-play politics,” said Austin Price, field director for CALPRIG, the California Public Interest Research Group.

The ruling will have no effect on state-level campaigns in California, as the state’s campaign finance law does not limit the aggregate amount any donor can contribute to candidates for state office. The state law, like the federal law, limits the amount donors can contribute to any one candidate, and the court’s decision allows those individual limits to remain in place.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Path to the Polls

Starting in the fall of 2016, 16- and 17-year-olds in California will be allowed to “preregister” to vote, ensuring that they are listed on the voter rolls the moment they turn 18. Voter preregistration provides California with an opportunity to improve young voter participation, but state and local officials must take proactive steps in order to make preregistration a success.

> Keep Reading
Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Millenial Online Voter Registration

Since the launch of online voter registration (OVR) in 2012, best practices have emerged that maximize the impact of online voter registration for getting youth from college campuses across the state onto the voter rolls.  Youth voter engagement has been identified as a problem of emerging concern by public and community leaders.  Only 8% of eligible youth participated in the historically low voter turnout elections of 2014.

> Keep Reading
Report | CALPIRG 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 | CALPIRG 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 | CALPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

The Voting Intentions and Opinions of Students

This spring, CALPIRG’s New Voters’ Project conducted an informal survey of just over a thousand UC, CSU, and community college students, before the June primary. We asked students about their own voting history and intentions, what they thought motivates them and their peers to participate in elections, and what they thought colleges and universities could do to encourage student participation. The survey questions were written to inform our own outreach plans for our non-partisan civic engagement program.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Democracy

California Colleges Commit to Supporting Voter Engagement | Emily Rusch

Earlier this week the Secretary of State announced a groundbreaking new partnership with Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and all three public systems of higher education to encourage eligible students to register and vote. CALPIRG Education Fund's New Voters Project is proud to have played a supporting role in the project.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Democracy

Coming together, pushing back | Jon Fox

 

Observations from the annual National Conference on Media Reform.

> Keep Reading
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