California House Races Dominated by Big Money

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 Zach Weinstein

Office: 510-844-6811

Cell: 410-300-5087

Email: [email protected]


California leaders call for powerful campaign finance reforms


Oakland, Nov. 12 – In California’s just-concluded House elections, bigger wallets gave mega-donors an outsized voice, according to new information released today by CALPIRG.  The CALPIRG analysis examined California’s House races in the Federal Election Commission’s campaign contribution database, which is currently complete through October 15th, and found that 64 percent of all candidate contributions came from donors who gave $1,000 or more.

“It’s hard for most people to afford to give even a hundred dollars to a candidate they support, much less a thousand,” said Zach Weinstein, Campaign Organizer with CALPIRG. “But donors who can, and do, give in large denominations played a decisive role in House fundraising in California.”

Many of California’s elected local and federal representatives have joined CALPIRG in calling for wholesale campaign finance reform. “The recent midterm elections — in which an astounding $3.7 billion was spent — once again highlight the corrosive impact on our current system of campaign finance and the role of the Super PACs,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-28). “The tragic line of reasoning expanded upon by the Supreme Court in Citizens United has opened the floodgates to almost unlimited and often anonymous funding. But we are not powerless to change the situation — the DISCLOSE Act, and a constitutional amendment to allow reasonable limits on contributions and expenditures and to permit public financing when states choose to enact such laws, are two important parts of the solution.” 

There are successful, proven models to empower small donors, so that their voices play a more central role in our democracy, such as providing tax credits and public matching funds for small donations. For example, in New York City’s 2013 city council campaigns, small donors were responsible for 61% of participating candidates’ contributions, when funds from a matching program are included. In 2009, all but two of the 51 winning candidates participated in the small donor program, showing that candidates are able to raise the money they need to win without looking for large-dollar contributions. 

The federal Government by the People Act would institute a similar system for Congressional elections, and Los Angeles and San Francisco have adopted similar policies at the city level. Dozens of members of California’s Congressional delegation are already supporting the Government by the People Act.

“Our founders pledged their lives, their liberty and their sacred honor to create a democracy: a government of the many, not of the money,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.  “It is the voices of people that should determine the outcome of our elections, not the bank accounts of the privileged few. That basic principle is the heart of Democrats ‘DARE’ to reclaim our politics and our policies: Disclose the sources of money in campaigns; Amend the Constitution to reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision; Reform the broken campaign finance system; Empower citizens to exercise their right to vote.  The Government by the People Act is a key component of our effort to strengthen the voice of everyday Americans in the political process and restore confidence in our democracy.”       

Newly elected Representatives Mark DeSaulnier (D-11) and Ted Lieu (D-33) have joined the ranks of California leaders supporting the Government by the People Act, citing the bills’ strong small donor empowerment program. “I’m in Congress to represent all the citizens of my district.  I’m humbled by the support of Californians who volunteered on my campaign and contributed what they could to help get our message out.  I support the Government By the People Act, because it will empower my constituents with incentives that will amplify their voice.  We need a government of, by, and for the people, not bought and paid for by the wealthy.  This proposal puts the U.S. Congress back in the hands of ordinary Americans,” said Representative-elect Desaulnier.

“I ran for Congress to represent the residents of my district.  I’m humbled by the support of Californians who volunteered on our campaign to help get people to the polls, or went door to door to talk to their neighbors,” said Representative-elect Lieu, “We received numerous donations of $50 or less, including many donations of less than $20. Our grassroots donations made a significant difference and helped counter the over $800,000 of Super PAC dark money spent against us.  That’s why I support the Government By the People Act, since it will mean I can spend more time working with my constituents and building support from the grassroots.”

Local elected officials from across the state joined Representatives Pelosi, Desaulnier, Lieu and Schiff in calling for federal solutions to the flood of big money in state and national elections.

“Now more than ever, we are seeing the severely negative impact of limitless amounts of money flooding our elections where the will of a few is taking precedent over the will of the people. Please join the majority of the citizens of this nation; demand that Citizens United is overturned,” said Maywood Mayor Pro-Tem Eduardo De La Riva.

“Overturning the Citizens United decision is the most important step in reassuring Americans that we can have fair elections without the influence of outside money with no checks or balances. That’s why I’m supporting CALPIRG’s effort to get big money out of our elections,” said Glendale City Clerk Ardashes Kassakhian.   

“Ever since Citizens United, elections all across the country have been flooded with outside spending. In a democracy, the size of your wallet shouldn’t determine the volume of your voice, and that’s why I’m supporting CALPIRG’s campaign,” said Malibu Mayor Skylar Peak.

“The people of California and the US have demonstrated time and again that they want Citizens United overturned and big money out of elections. We need Congressional action now to protect our democracy,” said Malibu City Councilmember Dr. Laura Rosenthal.


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CALPIRG is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.