Billion-Dollar Democracy The Unprecedented Impact of Big Money in 2012 Elections

U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Demos

 New Report: “Billion-Dollar Democracy” The Unprecedented Impact of Big Money in 2012 Election



Washington, DC – It took just 32 billionaires and corporations giving Super PACs an average of $9.9 million apiece to match every single dollar given by small donors to Romney and Obama in the 2012 election cycle, according to “Billion-Dollar Democracy,” a new report by U.S. PIRG and Demos. Those small donations amounted to over $313 million from more than 3.7 million individuals.

The report provides a full and detailed analysis of all 2012 federal election spending and fundraising by campaigns and Super PACs. The data shows the undue influence of large donors, business interests and secret spenders in 2012:

  • Nearly 60% of Super PAC funding came from just 159 donors contributing at least $1 million.
  • Candidates for both House and Senate raised the majority of their funds from gifts of $1,000 or more; and 40 percent of all contributions to Senate candidates came from donors who gave at least $2,500. (Those donors are just 0.02 percent of the American population.)
  • Corporate donations accounted for a large portion of the funds of two of top ten most active Super PACs, including 18 percent of Restore Our Future’s total contributions and 52.6 percent of those of FreedomWorks for America.

“The first post-Citizens United presidential election confirmed our fears that the new campaign finance system allows well-heeled special interests and secret spenders to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens,” said Blair Bowie, U.S. PIRG Democracy Advocate and report co-author.

“Billion-Dollar Democracy” also found that groups that do not disclose the source of their funds paid for well more than half of television advertising in the 2012 presidential race not sponsored by candidates or parties.

”These dark money groups hide key information about where they get their money from voters,” added Bowie. “Furthermore, because there’s no one to hold responsible for the content of their advertising, studies show they are far more likely to be misleading or just downright lying.”

Data in “Billion-Dollar Democracy” also demonstrate the extent to which our campaign finance system determines winners and losers, distorting our democratic process. Incumbents, for example, are big winners — in 2012 95.2% of incumbent Senators and 91.2% of incumbent Representatives who ran for office won re-election.

The report concludes with specific solutions for every level of government to ensure that ordinary Americans can make their voices heard in financing electoral campaigns.  These recommendations include amending the constitution, matching small political contributions with public funds, and requiring corporations to disclose political giving, among others.



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“Billion-Dollar Democracy” is the culmination of a series of reports analyzing the role of Super PACs, big money donors, and secret spending in the 2012 elections. Building on previous quarterly reports, it looks at FEC data for the entire 2012 cycle, plus adds new analysis of candidate fundraising and a clear picture of winners and losers in the current system.