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Report: Reclaiming Our Democracy
The first presidential election since Citizens United lived up to its hype, with unprecedented outside spending from new sources making headlines.
Demos and NJPIRG Law & Policy Center analysis of reports from campaigns, parties, and outside spenders to the Federal Election Commission found that our big money system distorts democracy and creates clear winners and losers:
Wealthy Donors Over Average Citizens
Newly minted Super PACs dominated outside spending reported to the FEC, aggregating huge sums from millionaires and billionaires.
- The top 32 Super PAC donors, giving an average of $9.9 million each, matchedthe $313.0 million that President Obama and Mitt Romney raised from all of their small donors combined—that’s at least 3.7 million people giving less than $200.
- Nearly 60% of Super PAC funding came from just 159 donors contributing at least $1 million. More than 93% of the money Super PACs raised came in contributions of at least $10,000—from just 3,318 donors, or the equivalent of 0.0011% of the U.S. population.
- It would take 322,000 average-earning American families giving an equivalent share of their net worth to match the Adelsons’ $91.8 million in Super PAC contributions.
- Super PACs accounted for more than 60% of outside spending reported to the FEC.
- For the 2012 cycle, Super PACs received more than 70% of their funds from individuals, and a significant percentage (12%) from for-profit businesses.
Fundraising for candidate campaigns was also dominated by an elite donor class and special interests.
- Candidates for both House and Senate raised the majority of their funds from gifts of $1,000 or more; and 40% of all contributions to Senate candidates came from donors giving at least $2,500, from just 0.02% of the American population.
- In the 2012 election cycle, 83.9% of House candidates and 66.7% of Senate candidates who outspent their general election opponents won their elections.
- Winning House candidates outraised major opponents by 108%, winning Senate candidates by 35%.
Special Interests Over the Public Interest
Super PACs raised a significant portion of their funds from business interests.
- For-profits corporations were the second largest donors to Super PACs accounting for 12% of all contributions.
- Businesses provided a significant portion of the funds for some of the most active super PACs, including 18.0% of Restore Our Future’s funds and 52.7% of Freedomworks for America’s funds.
Candidates, and especially winning candidates, raised a significant portion of their funds from political action committees (PACs).
- Winners of federal House races raised on average 40% of their funds from PACs versus 19.9% raised by major opponents.
- Winners of Senate races raised on average 15.9% of their funds from PACs versus 8.3% for losers.
Incumbents Over Challengers & Grassroots Candidates
- In 2012 95.2% of incumbent senators and 91.2% of incumbent representatives who ran for office won re-election.
- In the 2012 cycle, incumbent representatives outraised major challengers $1,732,000 to $319,000, for an incredible 443% advantage. Senate incumbents outraised major challengers $7.02 million to $1.69 million, for a slightly smaller 316% advantage.
- Challengers depended upon self-financing for more than 20% of their funds, showing that it’s important to be wealthy to run against an incumbent in our big-money system.
Secret Spenders Over Voters Seeking Accountability
Non-profit groups, which before 2010 were not allowed to directly spend on elections, spent big while hiding the identity of their donors.
- Of outside spending reported to the FEC, 31% was “secret spending,” coming from organizations that are not required to disclose the original sources of their funds.
- Much of the spending by these non-profit groups went unreported as it fell outside a certain window of time before the elections. Further analysis shows that dark money groups accounted 58% of funds spent by outside groups on presidential television ads.
See Ouside Spending, Outsized Influence, our factsheet on outside spending in 2012 New Jersey races, here.
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