Big money maintains hold on congressional primaries in CA, IA, MT, NJ, NM, NC, SD

86% higher fundraising candidates win congressional primaries in 2016 elections

U.S. PIRG Education Fund

WASHINGTON, DC – On Tuesday, congressional candidates in California, Iowa, Montana, New Jersey, North Carolina and South Dakota competed in primaries for the House and Senate. Higher-fundraising candidates won the vast majority of these races, repeating a trend that has so far defined elections in Illinois, Texas and thirteen other states which have held their congressional primaries. According to an analysis by U.S. PIRG Education Fund, 85.5 percent of higher fundraising candidates have won their congressional primaries so far in the 2016 election cycle.

“Big money is too often calling the shots in our elections,” said Dan Smith, Democracy Campaign Director for U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “The numbers say it all: in state after state, better-funded candidates are trouncing candidates without the same access to mega-donor support. When the odds are stacked in favor big-money candidates, many qualified individuals are also discouraged from running in the first place. Our public servants shouldn’t have to cater to special interests and wealthy donors for support –– they should focus their campaigns on the everyday Americans they want to represent.” 

View congressional primary winners by fundraising receipts.

On Tues., June 7, candidates competed in congressional primaries for seats in California, Iowa, Montana, New Jersey, North Carolina and South Dakota. U.S. PIRG Education Fund added the results of these primaries to an earlier examination of congressional victories in sixteen states which have already held congressional primary elections. Races included in U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s study featured at least two candidates with at least one candidate who raised funds for their election. Out of the 207 congressional primaries studied so far in the 2016 election cycle, only 30 were won by candidates who raised less funds than their opponent. 85.5 percent of higher fundraising candidates won their race and now head to the general election.

Legislation that would empower small donors over special interests and mega-donors in congressional elections is currently under consideration in the House and Senate. The Fair Elections Now Act (S. 1538) and the Government by the People Act (H.R. 20) would match small campaign donations with limited public funds for candidates who agree to turn down larger contributions.

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 Arizona, South Dakota, Miami Dade County, 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, the Supreme Court decision that opened elections to super PAC and corporate spending. 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 U.S. 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.