SuperPACs and Mega-donors dominate Congressional elections

Media Releases

New report shows role of outside & big donor money in congressional elections


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                               

November 20, 2014               



Zach Weinstein

Office: 510-844-6811

Cell: 410-300-5087

Email: [email protected]



SuperPACs and Mega-donors dominate Congressional elections

New report shows role of outside & big donor money in congressional elections


Oakland, Nov. 20 – In California’s just-concluded congressional elections, bigger wallets gave mega-donors an outsized voice, according to new information released today by CALPIRG and Demos. Especially large donors had an especially loud voice when it came to Super PACs – just fifty individuals and their spouses were responsible for a full third of all Super PAC money this election cycle, with most giving in the millions or more.


The analysis found that in California, candidates got 87 percent of their contributions from donors giving $200 or more – and nationally, 84% of individual contributions came from these larger donors.  Larger donors also played a central role in contributions to PACs, Super PACs, and party committees – when their fundraising is included with that of candidates, seven out of every ten dollars in individual contributions came from donors giving $200 or more. 


“Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, it seems that corporate coffers and the checkbooks of the super wealthy often determine who runs for office, what issues make it onto the agenda, and far too frequently, who wins,” said Zach Weinstein, Campaign Organizer with CALPIRG. “We need to change this system to encourage more fundraising and accountability at the grassroots level.”

“The basic promise of democracy is that citizens get an equal voice in deciding who represents them,” said Karen Shanton with Demos.  “The 2014 elections failed to live up to that promise.”

In addition to amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and allow for limits on the influence of megadonors and Super PACs, more must be done to empower ordinary citizens to play a more active role in our elections.  Fortunately, there are successful, proven models to support 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.


“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.”


Click here to see the new report.


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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.

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