Reclaiming Our Democracy

In 2012, Super PACs grew drastically, and they exemplify the strengthened grasp big money has on our elections: Just 47 individuals, donating $1 million or more, were responsible for more than half the individual contributions to Super PACs — and only 6 percent came from donations under $10,000.

GET BIG MONEY OUT OF OUR ELECTIONS

Special interest money has long had a corrosive effect on our politics, but in 2010, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision unleashed a new era of unprecedented spending by a handful of millionaires and corporations on our elections.

Since, then we've seen so-called “uncoordinated” outside campaign financiers on track to spend in 2012 over three-times more than in the record-breaking 2008 election. This wave of outside cash threatens to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens in our democracy.

We still don’t, and may never, know the specific interests behind this growing trend, but we know how to fight back: by building the case — one community, one state, even one corporation at a time — for overturning the entirety of the Citizens United decision through a constitutional amendment.

In the meantime, we're also working on several short-term strategies to stanch the flow of big money in our elections.

• Taking the fight directly to corporate political donors (and would-be donors)

We’re partnering with shareholder advocacy groups in pressing corporations such as Target and Bank of America to refrain from spending on political campaigns, and we’re also supporting the Shareholder Protection Act, a bill that would require corporations to seek the explicit approval of shareholders before spending a dime in electoral politics.

• Forcing political spending into the light of day

Our researchers have documented the rise of Super PACs and other groups funneling secret money into our elections, exposing some of the funding sources for these campaign finance behemoths, but we're also prodding our state and federal lawmakers to implement more thorough disclosure laws.

• Amplifying the power of small donors

Encouraging millions of everyday Americans to small contributions can help counterbalance the influence of special interests in our elections. We are working with federal and state legislators to implement programs like tax credits, campaign vouchers, and matching public funds to create a swell of grassroots funding.

Ultimately, we must amend the Constitution to clarify to the Court that our democratic elections were never intended as a tool for special interests to drown out the voices of others. Hawaii, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maryland, New Mexico, Montana, California, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey have gone on record taking a stand against Citizens United, and so have 300-plus communities across the country. But there is more work to be done, more doors to knock on, and more communities to organize to boldly force big money out of our elections.

Issue updates

Blog Post | Democracy

New Wisconsin Bill Would Let the People Decide On Citizens United

Two state legislators have introduced legislation that, when passed, will bring a question to the 2014 ballot on overturning Citizens United and eliminating big money in elections.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

Oregon is 16th State to Call to Overturn Citizens United

After a State Senate vote on July 1, Oregon became the 16th state to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and related decisions.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

Supreme Court Strikes Down Key Section of Voting Rights Act

Yesterday, in Shelby County v Holder, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 4 was a critical piece of legislation that helped ensure the ability of eligible voters to cast a ballot regardless of race, age or gender, and the Court’s decision is a blow to voters’ rights.

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Blog Post | Democracy

Wisconsin Bill Would Double Campaign Contribution Limits, Increase Big Money in Politics

Wisconsin is the latest state to consider raising contribution limits in a trend that ignores the real problems of our current campaign finance system.

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Blog Post | Democracy

Supreme Court Strikes Down Arizona Law, Protects the Right to Vote

This week, the Supreme Court strengthened our democracy by striking down a burdensome Arizona law that required physical proof of citizenship for voter registration.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

Supreme Court Upholds National Voter Registration Act

U.S. PIRG applauds the Supreme Court’s ruling today, which upheld that the National Voter Registration Act preempts the Arizona law requiring additional proof of citizenship when registering to vote.

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Media Hit | Democracy

USA Today: Make companies disclose political spending

If the Supreme Court is intent on allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of shareholders' money on political causes, the least shareholders can expect is the information they need to raise a stink.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

U.S. PIRG and 38 others Call for Support of the Shareholder Protection Act

If the Supreme Court is going to say that corporations are people, a proposition with which we completely disagree, then let's at least allow the real people who invest in the corporations to decide whether or not they can spend money on elections.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG, PennPIRG | Democracy

PennPIRG to EQT: Elections Are Not for Shale

This morning, PennPIRG, PennEnvironment, Public Citizen, Keystone Progress, One Pittsburgh, Common Cause PA, University of Pittsburgh students and others held a press conference outside gas drilling company EQT’s annual shareholder meeting to call on it to end the practice of spending corporate money in elections.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

U.S. PIRG and Allies Mark Citizens United Anniversary, MLK Day With Dozens of Actions Across the Nation, New Data on Election Spending

This week U.S. PIRG joined with ally organizations to mark Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the third anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC with events drawing attention to the dual threats of voter suppression and unlimited corporate and special interest money in politics. Under the banner of Money Out/Voters In, organizers are hosting “Day of Action” events in more than 76 cities in 33 states on and around the weekend of January 19.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Democracy, Tax

Who Slows the Pace of Tax Reforms?

As Congress considers a number of international tax reforms and loophole closing measures, the Administration and Congress have heard from many stakeholders. One of the more vocal groups has been the coalition called Promote America’s Competitive Edge, or PACE.  To better understand where opposition to reforms is coming from, U.S.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Saving Dollars, Saving Democracy

A more streamlined and automatic system linking existing databases with the state voter rolls could free up significant resources at the local level.  Thanks to the Help America Vote Act, we have already seen technological change in the initial creation of the mandated state database voter rolls.  By creating a more automatic system, the majority of the cost burden currently facing election officials due to registration could be eliminated.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Vanishing Voters

Fifteen years after enactment of the NVRA, many states continue to appear unaware of the federal rules regarding voter roll purges. A survey of state laws and election officials shows that, on the eve of the 2008 general election, many voters across the country do not appear to enjoy the important voter protection provisions afforded by the NVRA.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Funding Clean Elections

The spiraling cost of campaigns, high-profile scandals and voter distrust of Congress have fueled an effort for fundamental reform of the way we fund congressional campaigns. As a result, many federal decision-makers have been working on proposals to create a Clean Elections model for publicly financing congressional campaigns. As a part of the effort to build support both within the Democratic caucus and across party lines, it is important to know how much the program will cost and options to pay for that cost.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

Breaking Free With Fair Elections

Fair Elections – systems with full public financing of elections – would help improve the openness, honesty, and accountability of government. They would also free public officials to respond to the interests of voters without worrying about hurting their ability to raise money from deep-pocketed donors. If we want to protect the environment, design a better health care system or improve our energy policy, we need a political system that encourages lawmakers to listen more to voters than to oil and gas companies, pharmaceutical giants and other industries.

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Blog Post | Democracy

Why Target is Still a Target

Two years ago, when Target’s CEO Gregg Steinhafel used corporate general treasury funds to support a group backing a candidate known for his outspoken anti-LGBT positions, it was more than a blemish on the reputation of a corporation that brands itself as progressive. That irresponsible contribution was a violation of both shareholder and public trust and, not surprisingly, it resulted in scandal and boycotts that threatened the assets of shareholders who never authorized the use of their money for political spending

Target learned first-hand what it should have already known: consumers and shareholders do not want corporations to muddy up our democracy by interfering with our elections, yet it has not yet adopted a policy against this spending. Today, at Target’s annual shareholder meeting in Chicago, shareholders will take a vote on a resolution to refrain from political spending to once again remind Target that corporate electioneering is bad for shareholders and is bad for democracy.

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Blog Post | Democracy

Who Owns Big Oil? We Do!

The American Petroleum Institute has a new public image campaign: http://whoownsbigoil.org. The purpose of this website, presumably, is to convince us that if we raise taxes on hugely profitable corporations we will only be hurting ourselves. Why? Because we are all shareholders of those corporations and when they are taxed we suffer.

While I am skeptical of API’s conclusions, it’s right to say we own the oil companies. In fact, shareholders across the country are demanding accountability and disclosure from the corporations that they rightfully own and the effort could be the key to slowing the flow of corporate money in the 2012 election.

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Blog Post | Democracy

Disempowered Bankers Start Super PAC, Reveal Plans for World Domination

While I am highly skeptical of the sentiment that "Congress is not afraid of bankers", given that banking lobbyists outnumber banking reform advocates 25-1 and that the Chairman of the Senate Financial Services Subcommittee seems to believe that "the banks own the place," the most ridiculous thing about members of the American Bankers Association's announcement of the industry's new Super PAC may be their willingness to reveal its strategy for skirting the non-coordination rules. This speaks volumes about how the industry thinks about its involvement in politics.

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Blog Post | Democracy

Making Super PACs Illegal

Polling shows that almost 7 out of 10 voters believe that super PACs, the independent expenditure only committees created in the wake of the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision, should be illegal. Unfortunately, due to the Court’s backwards interpretation of the first amendment, we cannot legislate away super PACs today. However, there are some very important steps that every level of government – from your city council to the White House - should take right now to mitigate the impact of super PACs before the 2012 election.

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Blog Post | Democracy

After Super Pac Tuesday: Dominant Donors, Apathetic Voters

A new WashingtonPost-ABC News poll shows that on Super Tuesday, those going to cast their ballots in the presidential primary are not particularly enthusiastic about any of the candidates. Why? There is a fundamental problem that explains much of the disconnect between the candidates and the rank-and-file voters: the fact is, voters did not choose these candidates -- donors did.

It has become clear over the course of this primary season that a candidate's super PAC's prowess in knocking down the competition is key to staying in the race. Yet a recent U.S.PIRG/Demos study found that of all itemized contributions to super PACs, 96% came in contributions of $10,000 or more from just 1,097 donors.

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You Can Help

We have a chance to curb the unprecedented spending by big money in our elections. Your support will help us do the research, advocacy and grassroots organizing to convince our elected officials to act.

JOIN THE CALL

Already 300-plus communities and seven states have gone on record calling for a constitutional amendment. Make sure you town has joined the call to stanch the flow of special interest money in our elections.

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