Congressional Races Dominated by Big Money

Media Contacts
Emily Scarr

State Director, Maryland PIRG; Director, Stop Toxic PFAS Campaign, PIRG

New information shows role of large donors in congressional elections

Maryland PIRG and Demos

Baltimore, Nov. 20 – In Maryland’s just-concluded congressional elections, bigger wallets gave mega-donors an outsized voice, according to new information released today by Maryland PIRG and Demos.  The analysis found that in Maryland, candidates got 85 percent of their contributions from individuals 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.

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.

“It’s hard for most people to afford to give even a hundred dollars to a candidate they support, much less two hundred or a thousand,” said Emily Scarr, Director of Maryland PIRG. “But donors who can, and do, give in large denominations played a decisive role in fundraising in Maryland.”

“The basic promise of democracy is that citizens get an equal voice in deciding who represents them,” said Adam Lioz, Counsel with Demos.  “There’s a fundamental mismatch between that promise of political equality and the large donor-dominated reality of our elections.”

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.

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Maryland PIRG 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.