Demos

PFAW Releases New Toolkit on Getting Money Out and Voters In to Our Democracy

We believe in a democratic system where all Americans have equal access to the voting booth and can express their views on a level playing field.
PFAW

Money Out, Voters In: A Guide to Democratic Reform

Americans today face twin threats to the integrity of our democracy: unlimited spending to influence elections and voter suppression. Find out what you can do.

New “Follow the Money” Report Documents Dangers of Big Money in Politics

Strong campaign finance laws lead to more competitive elections and a greater influence from small donors, according to a new report from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

The report, released in May, examines state-level elections to gauge the impact of campaign finance laws. Titled "Evidencing a Republican Form of Government: The Influence of Campaign Money on State-Level Elections," it follows the finances of candidates in each state, looking at their donors, expenditures, and disclosures, providing evidence of the deleterious effects that unrestrained campaign spending has on our democracy.

States with high or no contribution limits, for one, have dramatically fewer competitive races than those with public financing. For example, the Institute found that only 6 percent of 2010 elections in Georgia were competitive, compared with 75 percent of elections in Maine. Not coincidentally, Georgia has relatively high contribution limits, with winning candidates raising a median amount of $50,425, while Maine uses public financing and had a much lower fundraising median of $5,844.

Further, removing limits on contributions also appears to crowd out small donors. In Texas, a state where individuals are allowed to contribute unlimited sums directly to campaigns, the median fundraising gap between winners and losers for 2010 was a whopping $255,318. Meanwhile, just 4 percent of 2010 donations in the state were under $250, while 59 percent exceeded $10,000. In fact, the Institute’s data reveals that in Texas, nearly half of all political donations came from a few hundred people. In contrast, in Colorado, which has much stricter contribution limits, the equivalent half of all contributions came from about 35,000 people. The Institute found this pattern to be present in all 50 states.

Lax campaign finance law has a double effect: not only does it reduce the competitiveness of political races, allowing candidates with money to simply overwhelm their opponents with tides of spending, but it also drastically reduces small-donor participation in politics, concentrating power and influence in the hands of those with deep pockets. This, of course, is a problem – as DEMOS has pointed out, the elite “donor class” often has vastly different policy priorities than those of most Americans.

As corporations, wealthy individuals, and special interests continue to adjust their election strategies in the wake of Citizens United, pouring ever more money into political campaigns, the conclusions of this report are cause for worry. Fortunately, the American people are not sitting idly by while our democracy is threatened. We are mobilizing.

PFAW

White House Petition for Constitutional Amendment on Campaign Cash Clears Threshold

25K call on President Obama to use State of the Union to endorse amendment movement

Today, a petition on the White House website urging President Obama to “use the State of the Union to call for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics” exceeded the 25,000 signatures necessary to guarantee an official White House response.  The petition, launched by the groups Free Speech For People, Avaaz, People For the American Way, and Demos on January 8 took less than two weeks to cross the threshold.

The petition can be found here: http://wh.gov/P9j7

Fixing our campaign finance system has long been a cause President Obama supports, though he failed to make progress on it during his first term.  During his re-election campaign, President Obama told supporters that: "Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United . . . . Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight of the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change."

The petition calls on the President to reiterate and strengthen this call in the State of the Union, and comes just days after President Obama delivered an inaugural address that many believe reflected a renewed willingness on his part to fight for core goals he has long supported even in the face of challenges. 

"Americans everywhere are asking President Obama to take the lead on the one issue that unlocks all the others: getting big money out of our political system, to restore our government of, by, and for the people," said Peter Schurman, Campaign Director at Free Speech For People. "'We the people' means all the people, not just the wealthy few, and not the corporations."

Ian Bassin, Campaign Director at Avaaz, said: "We the people have spoken and the message is clear: We're sick of oil industry money setting our energy agenda, the Wall Street dollar determining our economic policy, and gun company cash dictating how we protect our kids.  We need elections not auctions and we're counting on President Obama to lead us there, starting with his State of the Union."

The petition may also be the last White House petition to garner a response after receiving 25,000 signatures.  It also may be the most serious of the latest round.  Last week, after responding to petitions to deport Piers Morgan and to build a Death Star, the White House upped the threshold for guaranteeing a response to 100,000.  But petitions like this campaign finance one that were launched before the change were grandfathered at the 25,000 threshold.

“This petition provides more evidence for what we already know – that Americans want a solution to the corrupting influence of big money in our democracy,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “We saw massive amounts of money pour into last year’s elections, much of which was undisclosed. Using the megaphone provided to them by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, corporate special interests are drowning out the voices of ordinary voters. President Obama calling for a constitutional remedy in the upcoming State of the Union Address would draw attention to this critical situation and mobilize even more Americans into action.”

"This is the moment President Obama should take a strong and decisive step toward ending big money's stranglehold on our politics and our economy, and cement his legacy by leading the effort to finally forge a democracy in which the strength of a citizen's voice does not depend upon the size of her wallet," said Demos Counsel Adam Lioz.

After the coalition involved in launching this petition posted it to the White House website, its growth came from citizens expressing their frustration with the flood of money infecting our political system.  Much of this public frustration stems from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC that corporations have a constitutional right to spend unlimited sums to influence elections.  In the wake of that decision, more than $6 billion was spent in the 2012 elections, much of it by corporations and anonymous billionaires. Congress responded by proposing amendments to reverse that decision and eleven states and nearly 500 cities and towns have joined this call.

This petition tees up for President Obama the key question of what he’ll do next to deliver on a core, unfulfilled promise of his first campaign: to change the way Washington works.  The groups behind the petition will continue to campaign until he does.  

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PFAW Foundation Submits Amicus Brief in Critical Voting Rights Case

Yesterday, People For the American Way Foundation , on behalf of its Young People For program, joined with Demos and several other civil rights groups to submit an amicus brief to the Supreme Court urging it to reject a new requirement in Arizona that requires people to show certain documents proving citizenship when they register to vote. As Demos explains in its press release about the brief, this requirement could severely hamper grassroots voter registration efforts:

The brief filed today details the real-world negative impact that Arizona’s extreme documentation requirements have on the ability of community-based voter registration organizations to register eligible citizens to vote, particularly through registration drives.  Proposition 200 requires that a potential registrant produce a post-1996 Arizona driver’s license, a current U.S. passport, a birth certificate, naturalization documents, or selected Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal identification documents.  Many eligible citizens do not possess these narrow forms of documentation required by the law and, of those who do, many  do not carry them while conducting their daily affairs.  Community-based registration efforts overwhelmingly rely on approaching individuals who did not plan in advance to register at that time or location and who are thus unlikely to be carrying a birth certificate, passport, or other documentation.  Even when a potential registrant does happen to be carrying one of the required documents, logistical hurdles—ranging from an inability to copy documents on the spot to an unwillingness to hand over sensitive identification documents to registration drive volunteers—greatly hinder the ability of community-based organizations to register people in Arizona.  In short, community-based voter registration efforts are made more difficult, less effective, and more expensive as a result of Proposition 200’s citizenship documentation requirements.

The case in question, Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, is one of two critical voting rights cases that the Supreme Court will hear this year. The Court will also be considering a challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states and counties with a history of voting discrimination to get any changes to voting laws pre-cleared by the Justice Department or a federal court before they can go into effect. That law has helped to deflect numerous challenges to voting rights, including in the lead-up to the 2012 election. In fact, the Arizona law at issue in this case is a perfect example of why our federal voting rights protections should be expanded rather than eliminated.

Young People For fellows across the country worked last year to register and get young voters to the polls.

PFAW Foundation

PFAW and Allies Mark Citizens United Anniversary, MLK Day With Dozens of Actions Across the Nation, New Data on Election Spending

Washington, DC –  This week People For the American Way joined with ally organizations to mark Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the third anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC with events drawing attention to the dual threats of voter suppression and unlimited corporate and special interest money in politics. Under the banner of Money Out/Voters In, organizers are hosting “Day of Action” events in more than 76 cities in 33 states on and around the weekend of January 19.

Additionally, two reports highlighting new data on spending in the 2012 election season were released today.  A report by Demos and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund provides a wide-ranging analysis of the role of money in the 2012 elections, and a report by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Center for Media and Democracy examines the role dark money nonprofits and shell corporations played in 2012.

“Voter suppression and unlimited corporate and special interest money in politics serve as barriers to full civic participation, transparency, and accountability,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at People For the American Way. “Both stand in the way of democracy. We are excited to come together with our allies on this important weekend to signal our intentions to confront the multi-faceted assault on the voices of everyday Americans in our political system.”

“Big Money over Voters, or Voters over Big Money. The Kochs and Roves have made their choice, and they're in it for the long-term. Now We, the People are rising up to announce our choice: Money Out, Voters In,” said Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen. “With the actions on January 19, a growing movement calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, a guarantee of voting rights and a restoration of our democracy is announcing that we're in it for the long haul also, and we aim to win.”

“We are facing a dual attack on our democracy – everyday voters are being disenfranchised while corporations are being hyper-enfranchised,” stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “We need to fix the fundamentals of our political system if we want to get down to solving our long-term problems.”

“Our reports found clear evidence of what the vast majority of Americans already understand: political power in America is concentrated in the hands of an elite few,” said U.S. PIRG Democracy Advocate Blair Bowie. “It’s time for our leaders in Washington and across the country to take concrete action to build a democracy in which every citizen is truly a political equal. It’s time we make good on the promise of government of, by, and for the people.”

“Getting big money out and more voters in are two critical fronts in the ongoing fight for true political equality in America,” said Demos Counsel Adam Lioz.  “We all deserve a meaningful voice in shaping the decisions that affect our lives, and we won't stand for being blocked by red tape at the polls or drowned out by millionaires and billionaires in the public square.”

“Big, secret money is corrupting our democracy. This was the most expensive election year in the world and one of the least transparent in decades, with nonprofit groups having more influence than ever before while keeping CEO and corporate donors secret,” said Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy and a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department.

“Since the Citizens United decision three years ago, voters have been clear in their disdain for this decision,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “The big question is whether our elected representatives will listen to those voices. Our goal is to build a wave of grassroots support so strong that they cannot ignore it.”

For more information about the Money Out/Voters In Days of Action, please visit http://www.moneyout-votersin.org.

Groups supporting the Money Out/Voters In effort include 350.org, African American Ministers in Action, Campaign for America's Future, Center for Media & Democracy, Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Coffee Party, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America, Consumer Action, CREDO Action, Demos, Free Speech for People, Friends of the Earth, Global Exchange, Hip Hop Caucus, League of United Latin American Citizens, Move to Amend, MoveOn, NAACP, National People's Action, National Women's Health Network, Oil Change International, Organic Consumers Association, People For the American Way, Public Citizen, Rootstrikers, Stamp Stampede, Sierra Club, Story of Stuff, U.S. PIRG, United for a Fair Economy, United Republic/Represent.Us.

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New Analysis Shines a Light on 2012 Election Spending

U.S. PIRG and Demos issue an analysis of how much campaign money is being spent by a few individuals and corporations.
PFAW Foundation

The Right to Vote Under Attack, 2012 Update

Here we detail, as of October 6, 2012, except where otherwise noted, the latest efforts across the country to suppress the vote, as well as some encouraging successes in expanding the franchise.

What Kind of Justice Will We Vote for On Election Day?

President Obama's Supreme Court Justices respect the words and the values of the Constitution and deeply understand the law's impact on everyday Americans.
PFAW

Election Day Registration takes center stage in California

Seeking to increase turnout, the California Assembly has voted in favor of Election Day Registration.
PFAW Foundation

Good Government Advocates Call on Governor to Sign CT Disclosure Bill

“Stand By Your Ad” Law Would Shine Light on Super PAC Abuses

Hartford, CT. – A coalition of good government groups including Common Cause, People For the American Way, Public Citizen, Demos, Credo Action, Democracy 21 and the New Progressive Alliance are calling on Connecticut Governor Dannell Malloy to sign H.B. 5556, “Changes to Campaign Finance Laws and other Election Laws,” which just passed just passed the General Assembly. The bill would require public disclosure of major corporate and individual donors to Super PACs and other independent groups, bringing increased transparency and accountability to Connecticut’s elections.

The bill would strengthen existing “Stand By Your Ad” provisions, which require political ads to disclose the five top contributors. Additionally, individuals and corporations would no longer be able to use intermediaries to shield campaign contributions from public view.

“Since Citizens United opened the floodgates to massive amounts of undisclosed, unaccountable political spending, Connecticut has been on the forefront of the effort to limit the outsized influence that corporations and special interests have on our democracy,” said Cheri Quickmire, Executive Director of Common Cause Connecticut. “By signing H.B. 5556 into law, the Governor can help us take an important step toward fairer elections. This bill would protect our candidates from anonymous attacks and corrupting ads. No longer would wealthy special interests be able to take advantage of the system by using shadowy front groups to evade Connecticut law and hijack our democratic system.

“We need H.B. 5556 to take effect and strengthen Connecticut’s disclosure laws before the 2012 elections. Secretive political spending has already had a major impact on Connecticut’s citizens, so we must act now to protect the integrity of our elections.”

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