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

News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Small donor program could reshape campaign fundraising in Cook County State's Attorney race, new report shows

Candidates in the 2016 Cook County State’s Attorney Democratic primary race would see a dramatic shift in fundraising focus under a proposed small donor matching program, according to a study released today by Illinois PIRG Education Fund.

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Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Boosting the Impact of Small Donors

This report examines how the Cook County State’s Attorney Democratic primary could be reshaped by a public 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

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.

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News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Final Numbers Show Big Money Dominated Chicago Mayoral Elections

Ninety-six percent of all money raised by the Rahm Emanuel and Chuy Garcia mayoral campaigns came from donors giving $1,000 or more, according to Illinois PIRG Education Fund analysis of fundraising reports, the latest of which were released late Wednesday. Only 2% came from donors giving less than $150.

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News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

New Analysis: Tiny Number of Wealthy Contributors Match Millions of Small Donors, Will Continue to Set Agenda In Washington

A new analysis of data through Election Day from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and other sources by Illinois PIRG Education Fund and Demos shows how big outside spenders drowned out small contributions in 2012: just 61 large donors to Super PACs giving on average $4.7 million each matched the $285.1 million in grassroots contributions from more than 1,425,500 small donors to presidential candidates.

 

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News Release | Illinois PIRG | Democracy

Distorted Democracy: Big Money and Dark Money in the 2012 Elections

A new analysis of pre-election data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and other sources by Illinois PIRG and Demos shows that outside spending in the first presidential election since Citizens United is living up to its hype: new waves of “outside spending” have been fueled by dark money and unlimited fundraising from a small number of wealthy donors.

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News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | 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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Report | Illinois PIRG 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

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Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund & Demos | Democracy

Billion-Dollar Democracy

The first presidential election since Citizens United lived up to its hype, with unprecedented outside spending from new sources making headlines. This is Demos' and Illinois PIRG Education Fund's analysis of reports from campaigns, parties, and outside spenders to the Federal Election Commission to find our big money system distorts democracy and creates clear winners and losers.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund & Center for Media and Democracy | Democracy

Elections Confidential

Elections Confidential describes how secret donors poured hundreds of millions into the 2012 election through “social welfare” non-profits that are really political vehicles and via shell corporations formed as conduits to hide a funder’s identity.

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Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund and People for the American Way Foundation | Democracy

Outsized Spending, Outsized Influence

The 2012 elections were by far the most expensive in history thanks primarily to the tidal wave of outside, special interest money triggered by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The federal House races in Illinois, where outside groups spent nearly $24.7 million, were no exception. This fact sheet looks at the source of that money.

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Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Million Dollar Megaphones

A new analysis of data through Election Day from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and other sources by U.S. PIRG and Demos shows how big outside spenders drowned out small contributions in 2012: just 61 large donors to Super PACs giving on average $4.7 million each matched the $285.1 million in grassroots contributions from more than 1,425,500 small donors to the major party presidential candidates.

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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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