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Abe Scarr,
Illinois PIRG

New campaign launches to get big money out of politics

Senate debate demonstrates need for change
For Immediate Release

As the U.S. Senate debates a key measure to reduce the dominance of megadonors and Super PACs in our elections, today Illinois leaders called for the end of big money in politics, and for new policies to increase the impact of small donors.

“Our democracy is supposed to be one person, one vote, and candidates should be thinking about their constituents, not out-of-district megadonors,” said Maggie Galka, Campaign Organizer with Illinois PIRG.  “That’s why we’re launching a new campaign to demonstrate the broad support for commonsense reforms to prevent our voices from getting drowned out by a wave of big-money spending.”

Yesterday, the Senate opened debate on a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates to big-money campaign cash. Passage of this constitutional amendment would allow limits to be set on large-dollar contributions and campaign spending. 

"Citizens United prevents everyday citizens from having a strong voice in who is elected to represent them,” said Champaign Township Supervisor Andrew Quarnstrom. “The result of Citizens United is that corporate donors and Super PACS have undue influence over our elections."

Although a filibuster of the amendment is expected, consideration of the amendment is an important step in the fight to get big money out of politics. As part of that fight, Illinois PIRG, joined by a number of local elected officials, is launching a new campaign to push for solutions including amplifying the impact of small donors, which will give ordinary citizens a stronger voice.

“Raising big dollars shouldn't be more important than actually listening to constituents and deciding policy based on the merits,” said Springfield Alderman Joe McMenamin. “These programs and similar reforms will empower ordinary citizens in Springfield and everywhere.

Programs to empower small donors with tax credits and matching funds have proven successful at amplifying the voices of ordinary citizens, and reducing the influence of large donors.  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. All but two 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.

"We can't let the few, who have the billions therefore the power, run our state or the country," said Don Burroway, Village Trustee in  Carpentersville. "If we continue to let this happen it will take our democracy. The reversal of Citizens United is a, issue of utmost importance."

This past April, the Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC  further decimated campaign finance. The decision struck down a federal contribution limit that, according to Illinois PIRG and Demos research, may lead to an additional billion dollars in big-donor campaign spending between now and 2020. This year’s Congressional elections are the first under the new rules.

“Without strong action, our elections will continue to become the playground of special interests, with ordinary citizens just an afterthought,” concluded Galka.  “It’s time for a change.”

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