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.

Image: Flickr User: Joe Shlabotnik - Creative Commons

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.

Issue updates

News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Campaign Finance Analysis: Small Donors a Small Factor in Chicago Mayoral Race

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. 

> Keep Reading
Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Small Donors A Small Factor In Chicago Mayoral Race

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.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Democracy

Day 1 of Automatic Voter Registration in Illinois | Hannah Kim

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.).

> Keep Reading
Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Big Money in Smaller Races, Part II

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

> Keep Reading
Report | Democracy

Big Money in Smaller Races

 

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

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Release | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Campaign Finance Analysis: Small Donors a Small Factor in Chicago Mayoral Race

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. 

> 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
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.

> Keep Reading
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.

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

Mayoral Election Dominated by Big, Out of Town Money

Thicker wallets gave big donors an outsized voice in this year’s mayoral election, according to new analysis of campaign finance data by Illinois PIRG Education Fund. Contributions greater than $1,000 accounted for 92% of the money contributed to the Emanuel and Garcia Campaigns, while under 2% of the money contributed came from contributions of less than $150. A clear majority -- 58% -- of money contributed, came from donors living outside Chicago.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Small Donors A Small Factor In Chicago Mayoral Race

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.

> Keep Reading
Report | Illinois PIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Big Money in Smaller Races, Part II

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

> Keep Reading
Report | Democracy

Big Money in Smaller Races

 

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

> 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.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Democracy

Day 1 of Automatic Voter Registration in Illinois | Hannah Kim

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.).

> Keep Reading
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
Blog Post | Democracy

The Money Race | Abe Scarr

Election Day is tomorrow. We've compiled fundraising data for the 18 aldermanic races and Mayoral race as of this weekend. 

> Keep Reading

Pages

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.

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. 

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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