Big Money Continues to Sweep Congressional Primaries in MD, PA

So far in this election cycle, better-funded candidates have won 84% of congressional primaries


WASHINGTON, DC – On Tuesday, candidates in Maryland and Pennsylvania competed in some of the most expensive congressional primaries yet this election cycle. Higher fundraising candidates won the majority of these races, repeating a trend that has so far defined elections in Illinois, Texas and other states which have held their congressional primaries. According to an analysis by U.S. PIRG Education Fund, 83.7% of higher fundraising candidates have won their congressional primaries so far in the 2016 election cycle.

“In state after state, district after district, we’re seeing the same trend,” said Dan Smith, Democracy Campaign Director for U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “Candidates who lack the backing of mega-donors or vast personal wealth can’t keep up with their big money rivals.  You shouldn’t have to depend on Wall Street to run for public office, and you shouldn’t have to own Trump Tower to fund a competitive campaign. It’s time we start implementing solutions that reduce the influence of money in our elections and put regular voters in control of our democracy.”

View congressional primary winners by fundraising receipts.

On Tuesday, April 26, candidates competed in congressional primaries for seats in Maryland and Pennsylvania. U.S. PIRG Education Fund added the results of these primaries to an earlier examination of congressional victories in Arkansas, Alabama, Illinois, Ohio, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas. U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s study included primary races featuring at least two candidates with at least one candidate who raised funds for their election. Out of the 86 congressional primaries studied so far in the 2016 election cycle, only fourteen were won by candidates who raised less funds than their opponent. 84% of higher fundraising candidates won their race and now head to the general election.

While the vast majority of better-funded congressional candidates have won their primary so far this election cycle, several well-funded candidates were defeated in Maryland and Pennsylvania races on Tuesday. In the most expensive House election in U.S. history, self-funding millionaire David Trone lost Maryland’s eight district primary to candidate Jamie Raskin, while in Pennsylvania, Katie McGinty defeated former Representative Joe Sestak in the state’s Senate primary despite raising less money. While McGinty and Raskin raised less than their competitors, both candidates raised over one million dollars for their election, and both campaigns relied on large donors for over 80 percent of their contributions.

If a small donor empowerment program were in place, like that proposed in the Government by the People Act (H.R. 20), analysis by U.S. PIRG Education Fund reveals that campaigns would likely refocus fundraising efforts on small donors rather than large contributors and special interests. Already used in areas like New York City, this system would match small contributions with limited public funds and establish lower maximum contribution limits for participating candidates.

In November of 2015, Maine and Seattle voters strongly approved clean election ballot measures to help refocus state and local elections on ordinary people over special interests and mega-donors. Localities including D.C., Chicago, and Los Angeles are now considering similar legislative and regulatory reforms to empower small donors over special interest groups and big contributors in their elections. This year, California and Washington State may put referenda on the ballot asking voters whether they support overturning Citizens United. Advocates are also campaigning in Washington State for a ballot measure to create a statewide small donor empowerment program and pass new transparency and accountability measures.

Polls show that a vast majority of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents support overturning Citizens United and revamping campaign finance laws in the United States. This April, thousands of activists flooded Washington, D.C., to demonstrate for reforms as part of Democracy Awakening, a three-day mass mobilization supporting voting rights and fair elections.

View congressional primary winners by fundraising receipts.



With public debate around important issues often dominated by special interests pursuing their own narrow agendas, U.S. PIRG Education Fund offers an independent voice that works on behalf of the public interest. U.S. PIRG Education Fund, a 501(c)(3) organization, works to protect consumers and promote good government. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public, and offer Americans meaningful opportunities for civic participation.