You are hereHome >
Democracy For The People
Illinois PIRG 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.
Super PACs and Super Wealthy Dominate Elections
Wealthy donors have always had an outsized influence in our democracy, but misguided jurisprudence, like the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, has opened the floodgates for mega donations and corporate spending in our elections.
Spending on political races has skyrocketed, and running for office has never been more expensive. The 2020 election cycle was the most expensive in U.S. history with over $14 billion spent. As a result, unless candidates are independently wealthy, they often need to court contributions from mega-donors or corporate interests to be competitive in their races.
Our currect campaign finance system gives a very small number of people massive influence on who runs for office and, often, what issues they decide to talk about. In 2016, fewer than 400 families gave more than half of all of the money raised in the presidential race. That’s not how our democracy is supposed to work. Our democracy is supposed to be based on the principle of one person, one vote.
Ultimately, we need to overturn Citizens United and make other systemic changes if we want to get big money out of our elections. But large-scale changes like these take time, public pressure, and elected leaders who are committed to making it happen. That’s why we’re researching and supporting small donor empowerment programs, that will bring power back to the people.
It's time to reclaim our democracy and bring it back to the principle of one person, one vote.
RECLAIMING OUR DEMOCRACY
Small donor publc financing programs match contributions of ordinary people with public funds. Candidates access these funds when they opt into the program and refuse to take large and corporate contributions. This means anyone with enough public support can run for office, those candidates can raise enough money to be competitive, and they will be answerable to their constituents, not a handful of mega-donors and corporations.
Communites across Maryland have established small donor public financing to give everyone a voice in our elections and keep big money out. Montgomery County's program was in effect for the first time for the 2018 elections. To participate, candidates must reject contributions over $150 and money from corporations. Maryland PIRG Foundation analysis found:
- Candidates who had qualified received nearly twice as many donations from Montgomery County residents than those not participating.
- Those not participating received only 8 percent of their donations from people giving less than $150, while those participating received more than 90 percent of their donations from people giving less than $150.
- By the June primary, more than half of all candidates, over 30 total, participated in the program. Ultimately, 22 qualified for the program — candidates from both parties and from a wide range of backgrounds who were able to run competitive campaigns based on support from the communities, not large donors.
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.
There have been multiple challenges to automatic voter registration implementation in Illinois and there are still opportunities to significantly improve AVR implementation. Even with those challenges, we wanted to measure the law’s effectiveness at Secretary of State facilities since implementation began in the summer of 2018. Our analysis shows that voter registration applications at Secretary of State facilities have increased markedly, by 37 percent, which translates to an additional 111,000 voter applications every year.
Voter registration applications have increased by 37% at Driver Services offices of the Secretary of State since the implementation of automatic voter registration (AVR), according to analysis released Wednesday by Illinois PIRG Education Fund. Since AVR’s implementation in July 2018, the system has helped register or update the voter registration of 1.3 million voters.
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.
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.
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.).
Your tax-deductible donation supports Illinois PIRG Education Fund’s work to educate consumers on the issues that matter, and the powerful interests that are blocking progress.
You can also support Illinois PIRG Education Fund’s work through bequests, contributions from life insurance or retirement plans, securities contributions and vehicle donations.