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

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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Blog Post | Democracy

U.S. PIRG Mourns the Loss of Common Cause President Bob Edgar

The movement to create a more equal and participative democracy lost an inspirational and tireless leader this week.

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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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Report | PennPIRG, PennEnvironment | Democracy

Elections for Shale

Fracking corporation EQT and the rest of the industry spend millions on electoral politics at the state and federal level, elevating their interests and making it more difficult for ordinary citizens to have their voices heard. Concurrently, the industry exploits loopholes to pay extremely low taxes, receives thousands of permits to drill on public lands, and is exempted from many basic environmental standards.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

Press Conference: Celebrating 100 Years of Secrets and Lies

One of the biggest post-Citizens United dark money spenders in this year's election is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Despite trying to pass itself off as representing mom-and-pop small businesses, the U.S. Chamber's corporate funding has enabled it to become the second biggest outside spender to date and to pledge to spend up to $100 million in races across the country. Yet the U.S. Chamber will not disclose to the electorate the sources of its funding, denying citizens the opportunity to judge the credibility of its messaging. The U.S. Chamber exemplifies the unaccountable secret spending of the post-Citizens United landscape.

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News Release | Florida PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Florida Victory For Young People

Civic groups and Florida voters won a huge victory when a federal judge indicated he will permanently remove some of the most restrictive parts of Florida’s new voter registration laws, which have made it harder for student governments and civic groups to help register young people to vote. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

New Report Details Latest Numbers on Outside Spending, Secret Money and Super PAC Fundraising for 2012 Elections

The Top 5 “dark money” spenders on presidential election ads have reported less than 1% of their spending to the FEC, which is all that is required by the agency’s insufficient standards, according to a new report analyzing the latest campaign filings.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Supreme Court Rejects Opportunity to Revisit Citizens United

Today the  Supreme Court passed on the opportunity to revisit its disastrous 2010 Citizens United decision which is wreaking havoc on democracy and it has done so in a way that avoids giving the American public a much deserved explanation.

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News Release | Corporate Reform Coalition, U.S. PIRG | Democracy

New Report: Sunlight State by State After Citizens United

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts from their treasuries to influence elections, states have passed a variety of innovative measures to regulate corporate cash in elections, a new report by the Corporate Reform Coalition shows.

The report, “Sunlight State by State After Citizens United,” details the steps, legislative and otherwise, that each state took to respond to the Citizens United decision and grades them on transparency in spending. It also points to a need for more sweeping federal reform.

 

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Contribution Limits And Competitiveness

For years, academics, political theorists, and campaign finance reformers have debated the causal relationship between campaign contribution limits and the outcome of elections. Some argue that limiting campaign contributions amounts to "incumbent protection;" others contend that limits make challengers more competitive. This study is the first of its kind to comprehensively examine the states with contribution limits and empirically measure changes in competitiveness.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

The Lobbyist's Last Laugh

Despite giving almost a quarter of a million dollars to candidates, Political Action Committees (PACs) and parties in the last election cycle, K Street did not mount a campaign against the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill as it went to the floor of the Senate earlier this year. The reason lies in the fine print of the bill.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Lone Star Election Laws

Texas lags behind most states in several key areas of campaign finance law, according to a report released today by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Texans for Public Justice. The report, titled Lone Star Election Laws found that Texas is one of only 14 states in the country that place absolutely no limit on what wealthy donors can give a candidate. Further, Texas does nothing to cap the massive levels of campaign spending or limit contributions from out of state donors.

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Report | U.S. PIRG | Democracy

Dirty Dollars, Dirty Air

This report documents the influence of the auto and oil industry on public policy and debates surrounding the control of pollution that causes smog, soot and global warming. It tracks the amount of campaign contributions made by the 164 largest companies in the automobile and oil industries and how those contributions influenced members of Congress on clean air issues.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Pushing The Limit

At least five proposals to increase limits on contributions by individuals to congressional candidates -- either as stand-alone measures or as part of a package of campaign finance measures -- have been floated by important political groups and individuals in the past year. The following paper analyzes the likely impact of these proposals on which candidates get elected and on the power of wealthy interests vs. the general public in governmental decision making.

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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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