Government Transparency

Shaping A Government Accountable to the People

How our government collects and spends money is critically important. Tax and budget decisions are the most concrete way that communities declare priorities and balance competing values.

Unfortunately, government decisions about how to raise revenue and support public functions often fail to best advance the public interest. Too often, public subsidies, tax breaks or special deals are granted to powerful corporate interests at the taxpayers’ expense. When this happens, taxpayers are stuck with the tab, or public resources and services end up threatened.

It is not possible to ensure that government decisions are fair and efficient unless information is publicly accessible. Likewise, public officials and private companies that receive contracts and subsidies must be held accountable for delivering promised goods and services.

Transparency in government spending checks corruption, promotes fiscal responsibility, and allows for greater, more meaningful participation in our democratic system. Illinois PIRG Education Fund is working to advance these goals on a variety of fronts:

  • Promoting public access to online information about government spending at a detailed "checkbook" level including contracts, subsidies and "off-budget" agencies. Illinois PIRG Education Fund's 2016 Following The Money report is the seventh annual scorecard of state's online budget transparency. This latest scorecard finds that states continue to make progress toward comprehensive, one-stop, one-click transparency and accountability for state government spending, but some states are lagging and in all states there are opportunities to expand transparency to include economic development subsidies and quasi-public agencies.
  • Ensuring that companies that receive public subsidies are held accountable for delivering clear benefits or required to return public dollars. 
  • Protecting against bad privatization deals that sell off public assets on the cheap and diminish public control of vital public structures such as toll roads, parking systems and traffic enforcement. 

Find a full list of our reports here.

Issue updates

Blog Post | Democracy

Big Money Dominates in Race for Attorney General | Hannah Kim

As Illinois voters prepare to elect candidates for many top government offices in 2018, it is increasingly apparent that candidates must compete in a “money primary” in addition to regular primary elections.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Go Big or Go Home | Abe Scarr

To compete in the race for Illinois Governor, candidates are raising the vast majority - 97% - of their campaign funds this year from donors giving $1,000 or more.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Some Good News for Illinois | Abe Scarr

At a time when it seems like Springfield can't agree on anything, automatic voter registration has won bipartisan support.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

New Report: County clerks’ take on Automatic Voter Registration

County clerks from across the state think automatic voter registration could mean more efficiency without adding to the budget.

> Keep Reading
Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

The 21st Century Election

Automatic voter registration is this year’s hot trend in registration and administration reform. In this report, Illinois PIRG Education Fund gathers input from election officials across the state who would have a role in implementing AVR.

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News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

In Aldermanic Races Fueled by Big Money, Top Fundraiser Wins 93% of the Time

In the Chicago aldermanic races the candidate with the most money almost always wins, small donors represent only a small portion of candidates’ campaign cash, and small donor campaign finance reform would shake up elections according to a new report from Illinois PIRG Education Fund. The report analyzes campaign contributions going to top candidates in all 50 wards in the 2015 aldermanic elections.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Illinois PIRG | Democracy

Chicago Voters Want to Curb Influence of Big Money, Empower Small Donors

While some races- including the mayoral - are headed for runoffs, Chicago voters spoke loud and clear on one issue: it’s time to get big money out of our elections.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Big Money Playing an Outsized Role in Illinois Elections

In this year’s campaigns, bigger wallets give a small set of mega-donors an outsized voice, according to new information released today by Illinois PIRG Education Fund and Demos.

> Keep Reading
Media Hit | Democracy

Guest Column: Same-day voter registration could help curb political corruption rate

Same Day Registration (SDR) would let all citizens in Illinois register and vote at any Early Voting and Election Day polling location. Four of the five states with the highest voter turnout in 2012 offered SDR. The average voter turnout rate was more than 10 percent higher in states with SDR than in other states.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Testimony before the Illinois Campaign Finance Reform Task Force

Testimony by Anu Dathan at a hearing by the Campaign Finance Reform Task Force on January 17, 2013. The hearing was part of the Task Force's study of the role of SuperPACs in Illinois elections. The testimony covers the key findings of Illinois PIRG's report, Billion-Dollar Democracy, and its recommendations.

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Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Boosting the Impact of Small Donors

With more than a year to go before voters cast their ballots for the next President of the United States, the race among candidates to build the biggest campaign war chest has already set records.

This report examines how the 2016 presidential race would be reshaped by a financing system that amplifies the voices of small donors in our elections.

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Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Boosting the Impact of Small Donors

This report examines how the 2016 presidential race would be reshaped by a public financing system that amplifies the voices of small donors in our elections.

> Keep Reading
Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

The Money Primary

The role of money in elections is typically discussed in the context of high profile races such as those for Congress, Governor, or big city Mayors. The influence of money in smaller races, however, is just as big if not bigger.

> Keep Reading
Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Big Money, Money from Outside Chicago, Dominates Mayoral Race

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decisions undermining campaign finance rules, most notably Citizens United v FEC, our elections have become increasingly dominated by large donors at the expense of ordinary Americans. These effects have been outsized in recent Illinois elections where campaign contribution limits have been lifted in both the gubernatorial and Chicago mayoral elections. This study examines the dominance of big donors in Chicago’s mayoral race.

> Keep Reading
Report | Illinois PIRG 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.

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Blog Post | Democracy

The "Level" Playing Field | Abe Scarr

The fact that allowing megadonors to contribute without limit is considered 'leveling the playing field,' creating a playing field on which the vast majority of Chicago voters can't play any meaningful role, is a sad statement of how big money has been allowed to dominate our elections

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

IRS Scandal Highlights Need for Increased Transparency in Campaign Financing

It’s up to the IRS to ensure that nonprofits are not being used as illicit vehicles to funnel untraceable money into our elections. However the agency’s handling of this responsibility has been thoroughly outrageous, the latest scandal being just the latest example of disturbing action—or, as has been more often the case, inaction. 

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Blog Post | Democracy

Why Target Is Still a Target | Brian Imus

Two years ago, the public spoke out against the Supreme Court’s decision to allow unlimited corporate spending in politics when consumers boycotted Target Corporation for controversial political spending in Minnesota’s state elections. That's why today, at the Target Corporation shareholder meeting in Chicago, shareholders will have an opportunity to vote on a resolution filed by Green Century Funds that calls for an end to the use of shareholder money to influence elections.

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News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund

Analysis of Mayoral campaign finance reports through one week before Election Day shows that less than 1 percent of money raised has come from donors giving less than $150, while 97 percent has come from donors giving $1,000 or more. 

Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund

As we approach ten years since Citizens United v. FEC, the growing dominance of a small group of big donors in Illinois elections is undeniable. From City Council to Governor, political campaigns are increasingly fueled by a small number of donors who make contributions far larger than average voters can afford. Increasingly, to run a competitive race, a candidate cannot rely primarily on small donors, but instead needs to draw on the small number of large donors who can afford to make big contributions, from their personal wealth, or from the war chests of established political players. As the presence of big money in politics grows, the voices of small donors are increasingly stifled.

Blog Post

Today, Illinois took its first step forward in implementing automatic voter registration statewide. A fully-electronic process for “Opt-In” automatic voter registration is now available at all Illinois Driver Services facilities. This means registering to vote through Drivers Services is easier and more accurate than ever. This does NOT mean that you’re automatically registered to vote when you engage in Driver Services (e..g, renew your license, register vehicle, etc.).

Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund

A second look at the influence of big money in state legislative primaries: campaign contribution analysis of 15 state House races.

Report

 

Campaign contribution analysis on March 2018 primary contests in Illinois state legislative races shows the impact that big money has in smaller races too.

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