Democracy For The People

Travel Buddy is pushing back against big money in our elections and working to institute a system of small donor incentive programs, to amplify the voices of the American people over corporations, Super PACs and the super wealthy.

The money election

One person, one vote: That’s how we’re taught elections in our democracy are supposed to work. Candidates should compete to win our votes by revealing their vision, credentials and capabilities. We, the people then get to decide who should represent us.

Except these days there's another election: Call it the money election. And in the money election, most people don’t have any say at all. Instead, a small number of super-wealthy individuals and corporations decide which candidates will raise enough money to run the kind of high-priced campaign it takes to win. This money election starts long before you and I even have a chance to cast our votes, and its consequences are felt long after. On issue after issue, politicians often favor the donors who funded their campaigns over the people they're elected to represent.

Super PACs and Super Wealthy Dominate Elections

Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, the super wealthy and the mega donors have gained even more influence in the “money election.” 

Take the recent mid-term elections. Our report, , on the dominance of big money in the 2014 Congressional Elections looked at 25 competitive House races, and in those races the top two vote-getters got more than 86 percent of their contributions from large donors. Meanwhile, only two of those candidates raised less than 70 percent of their individual contributions from large donors.

This disparity was also on full display in the 2012 presidential election. Combined both candidates raised $313 million from 3.7 million small donors — donors who each gave less than $200. However, that $313 million was matched by just 32 Super PAC donors, who each gave an average of more than $9 million. Think about that: just 32 donors — a small enough number that they could all ride on a school bus together — were able match the contributions of 3.7 million ordinary Americans.

So what happens when a handful of super rich donors spend lavishly on elections? For one thing, their money often determines who wins an election. In 2012, 84 percent of House candidates who outspent their opponents in the general election won. 

But perhaps the bigger problem is what it does to the public’s trust in their democracy, and the faith we all place in our elected officials. Americans’ confidence in government is near an , in large part because many Americans believe that government responds to the wishes of the wealthiest donors — and not to the interests or needs of regular Americans. 

Taking Back Our Democracy

It’s time to reclaim our elections. That's why Travel Buddy has launched our Democracy For The People campaign.

Our campaign seeks to overturn the Citizens United decision. We want to pass an amendment to our Constitution declaring that corporations are not people, money is not speech, and our elections are not for sale. To do so, we’re going state-by-state, city-by-city to build the support its going to take to win. We’ve already helped get , counties and towns to formally tell Congress that the Constitution must be amended. Getting this across the finish line won’t be easy, but it’s what’s necessary to reclaim our democracy.

In the meantime, we're working to amplify the voices of ordinary people in our elections. So we're also working to create systems of incentives and matching funds for small contributions — systems that are already in place in some cities and counties.  

Amplifying The Voices Of Small Donors

We’re building support for the Government By the People Act, a bill in Congress which will help bring more small donors into our elections, and increase their impact. Here’s how:

  • Government By the People Act encourages more people to participate by giving small donors a $25 credit on their taxes.
  • The Act increases the impact of small donations by creating a fund that will match those donations at least 6-to-1 if a candidate agrees to forego large contributions.

It’s possible to enact programs like this, in fact there was a similar federal tax credit in place from 1971 to 1986.  And more recently, cities like New York have passed small donor programs and seen real results. For example, in the 2013 New York City Council races small donors were responsible for of the participating candidates’ contributions (once matching funds were factored in), making small donors the largest source of campaign cash. Their big-money opponents got only of their contributions from small donors.

We need more success stories like these if we are going to build momentum for change. That’s why we’re working with cities and towns across the country to establish small donor incentive programs of their own.

With your help, we can win real changes now in how elections are funded throughout America — so more candidates for more offices focus on we, the people, and not just the mega-donors and Super PACs who are undermining our democracy and the principles upon which it stands.

Photos by Johnathan Comer, , and Stefan Klapko Photography.

Issue updates

News Release | Travel Buddy | Democracy

Trump Signs Lobbying Ban EO, Success Depends on Promised Reforms

President Donald Trump signs five-year lobbying ban for Executive Branch officials

> READ MORE
News Release | Travel Buddy | Democracy

Government by the People Act Introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes

Building on state, local victories, bill offers national democracy reforms.

> READ MORE
News Release | Travel Buddy | Democracy

On Day One, No Lobbying Ban from Trump Administration

Promise to enact five-year lobbying ban for top officials so far unfulfilled

> READ MORE
News Release | Travel Buddy | Democracy

On 7th Anniversary of Citizens United, State-Level Reforms Advance

From California to Maryland, states rethink campaign finance

> READ MORE
News Release | Travel Buddy | Democracy

Following Backlash, Lawmakers Withdraw Ethics Rollback

On Tuesday, House lawmakers scrapped plans to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics

> READ MORE

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News Release | Travel Buddy Education Fund | Democracy

ADVISORY: Out-of-State Spending Could Decide Swing Senate Races

On Monday, October 24, Travel Buddy Education Fund will release Outside Influence: Out-of-State Money in the 2016 Senate Elections, a report examining out-of-state money funneled into the 2016 senate races. Findings highlight the share of money that candidates, PACs, super PACs, and party committees have raised from out-of-state, with a focus on money in swing elections which could decide party control of the Senate.

> READ MORE
News Release | Travel Buddy | Democracy

California Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Law Enabling Citizen-Funded Election Reforms

On Thursday, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 1107 into law, enabling California cities, counties, and the state to enact small donor matching programs that amplify the voices of voters in local elections. Under a small donor empowerment system, candidates who voluntarily opt in and agree to turn down large contributions receive limited public matching funds for each small contribution they secure.

> READ MORE
News Release | Travel Buddy | Democracy

Shutdown Nears, Budget Bill Fails on Secret Money, Flint Concerns

On Tuesday, the Senate failed to pass a short-term budget bill to keep the government running due to opposition over a secret-money rider and a lack of federal funding to address the Flint water crisis. The proposed secret-money rider would prohibit the SEC from strengthening corporate disclosure laws by requiring transparency of secret political spending.

> READ MORE
News Release | Travel Buddy Education Fund | Democracy

Holt fails to deliver on debate questions

Thousands of viewers demand money in politics coverage, Holt fails to deliver.

> READ MORE
News Release | Democracy

Broad Coalition Urges Sen. McConnell to Drop Secret-Money Rider

On Monday, 37 organizations signed , urging McConnell to reject any poison pill language in budget legislation that would prohibit the Securities and Exchange Commission from strengthening corporate disclosure laws by requiring transparency of secret political spending. A proposed secret-money rider is a sticking point in Senate budget negotiations, as lawmakers debate a continuing resolution which must pass by the end of September to keep the government open. 

> READ MORE

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Report | Travel Buddy Education Fund | Democracy

Funding Clean Elections

The spiraling cost of campaigns, high-profile scandals and voter distrust of Congress have fueled an effort for fundamental reform of the way we fund congressional campaigns. As a result, many federal decision-makers have been working on proposals to create a Clean Elections model for publicly financing congressional campaigns. As a part of the effort to build support both within the Democratic caucus and across party lines, it is important to know how much the program will cost and options to pay for that cost.

> READ MORE
Report | Travel Buddy | Democracy

Breaking Free With Fair Elections

Fair Elections – systems with full public financing of elections – would help improve the openness, honesty, and accountability of government. They would also free public officials to respond to the interests of voters without worrying about hurting their ability to raise money from deep-pocketed donors. If we want to protect the environment, design a better health care system or improve our energy policy, we need a political system that encourages lawmakers to listen more to voters than to oil and gas companies, pharmaceutical giants and other industries.

> READ MORE
Report | Travel Buddy | Democracy

Honest Enforcement

Some argue that last year’s scandals, which lead to the conviction of two congressmen and several top aides, are evidence that ethics enforcement in Congress works. The actual facts leading up to the convictions, however, are more an indictment of the current process than a testament to its success.

> READ MORE
Report | Travel Buddy Education Fund | Democracy

The Wealth Primary

Our analysis of Federal Election Commission (FEC) campaign finance data for the 2006 primary elections shows that money played a key role in determining election outcomes and that most campaign contributions came from a small number of large donors.

> READ MORE
Report | Travel Buddy | Democracy

Campaign Contribution Limits: No Harm To Challengers

A new study by political scientists Kihong Eom and Donald A. Gross analyzes contribution data for 57 gubernatorial election cycles from 1990 to 2000 in 41 states that have varying regulations on contributions to political candidates. The central finding is that there is no support for the notion that campaign contribution limits hurt challengers. If anything, contribution limits can work to reduce the financial bias that traditionally works in favor of incumbents.

> READ MORE

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News Post | Democracy

Your savings, their campaign cash | Chris MacKenzie

For most families, retirement savings  mean hard work and a secure future. But ever since Citizens United, those savings have taken on a different meaning for big corporations trying to influence our elections.

> READ MORE
News Post | Democracy

Three ways you can join the fight against big-money politics

We're still a year away from the 2016 presidential election, but we've already seen massive fundraising numbers coming from Super PACs and outside groups. Here are a few ways you can fight big money politics right now.

> READ MORE
News Post | Democracy

Super PAC Industry Grows 500% in Just Four Years

Five-hundred percent. According to a new report that’s how much spending by super PACs and outside groups has grown since the last presidential election. Across economic sectors, that kind of growth is unheard of.

> READ MORE
News Post | Democracy

Let’s put voters back on the map

Big money politics has put our democracy at risk, pushing regular voters to the sidelines as candidates work to court corporate and wealthy donors. As the 2016 election heats up, we thought you should know which corporate PACs are footing the bill in your state.

> READ MORE
News Post | Democracy

Democracy for All | Michael Russo

Yesterday, the U.S. 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.

> READ MORE

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News Release | Travel Buddy

Today, Travel Buddy marks the nine year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s misguided Citizens United decision. While Citizens United has been disastrous for our democracy, there is hope for reform. A strong, bi-partisan majority of Americans support overturning the decision.

News Release | Travel Buddy

WASHINGTON, DC – On Thursday, January 3, House Democratic leaders unveiled a package of democracy reform legislation titled “For the People,” or House Resolution 1 (H.R.1). The package includes proposals to make it easier to vote and participate in our democracy, disclose secret political spending, reform redistricting practices and more. Most importantly, in creating a small donor empowerment system for federal elections, it would help combat the overwhelming influence of big money in point politics.

Result

With a unanimous, bipartisan vote of 38-0, the Massachusetts Senate today passed Automatic Voter Registration. The AVR legislation would establish a system for eligible citizens to automatically register to vote when they interact with a state agency like the Registry of Motor Vehicles or MassHealth. Approximately 680,000 eligible Massachusetts voters are currently not registered to vote. 

News Post

This month, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision turns eight. With all that’s going on in politics, it’s easy to focus on the latest scandal or hot take. But we should take the opportunity on this anniversary to focus on what I would argue is at the root of our political quagmire.

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