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Electoral Reform

United Republic's Money in Politics Facts

$305 million: The record-breaking amount outside groups spent influencing the 2010 elections, mostly on advertising. SOURCE: OPENSECRETS

13,688: The number of registered lobbyists in DC in 2009, not including an estimated 90,000 people not registered but part of DC’s influence industry. SOURCE: OPENSECRETS

$6.5 million: The amount lobbyists spent in 2009 per elected representative in Congress. SOURCE: REPUBLIC LOST: HOW MONEY CORRUPTS CONGRESS — AND A PLAN TO STOP IT, LESSIG, LAWRENCE, P. 118

0.26%: The percentage of Americans who gave two-thirds of all campaign contributions in the 2010 election. SOURCE: OPENSECRETS

525%: The percent increase in spending by all candidates for Congress on elections from 1982 ($343 million) to 2010 ($1.8 billion). SOURCE: REPUBLIC LOST: HOW MONEY CORRUPTS CONGRESS — AND A PLAN TO STOP IT, LESSIG, LAWRENCE, P. 91

50%: The percentage of retiring members who become lobbyists today. In the '70s, that number was 3 percent. SOURCE: REPUBLIC LOST: HOW MONEY CORRUPTS CONGRESS — AND A PLAN TO STOP IT, LESSIG, LAWRENCE, P. 123

30% to 70%: The amount of time members of Congress spend fundraising. SOURCE: REPUBLIC LOST: HOW MONEY CORRUPTS CONGRESS — AND A PLAN TO STOP IT, LESSIG, LAWRENCE, P. 138

2 to 1: The amount super PACs outspent the official 2012 Republican primary campaigns in South Carolina. SOURCE: WASHINGTON POST

Who Cares? Americans do! More and more believe that we need to get money out.

77%: Amount of Americans who think it’s important for candidates to address the issue of campaign finance reform in 2012.

63%: Amount of Americans who say reducing the influence of lobbyists and money in politics will be an important factor in their vote.


86%: Amount of Americans — including 77 percent of Republican voters — who think Wall Street has too much influence over politics. SOURCE: TIME

9%: A recent congressional job approval rating — a record low.

58%: Amount of Americans who think the U.S. needs new campaign finance laws.


Taxes: Too much money in politics buys bad tax policies

$8 million: The amount spent in the 2010 elections by the five biggest recipients of corporate tax breaks. SOURCE: HUFFINGTON POST

30: The number of Fortune 500 corporations that spent more on lobbying than they did in taxes between 2008 and 2010. SOURCE: PUBLIC CAMPAIGN

Financial Institutions / Reform: Too much money in politics prevents fixing the causes of the 2008 crisis

1,537: The number of registered lobbyists in DC in October 2009 representing financial institutions — 25 times the number registered to support consumer groups, unions and other reform groups. SOURCE: REPUBLIC LOST: HOW MONEY CORRUPTS CONGRESS — AND A PLAN TO STOP IT, LESSIG, LAWRENCE, P.164

$1.3 billion: Amount spent on lobbying by the financial industry during 2009 and the first quarter of 2010 to weaken the Dodd-Frank reform bill. SOURCE: NEWSWEEK

850: Number of businesses and trade groups fighting Dodd-Frank in Washington.

5:  Number of lobbyists per member of Congress who lobbied against Dodd-Frank.

$2.7 billion: Amount spent by the financial sector on lobbying from 1999 to 2008; individuals and related PACs donated more than $1 billion in campaign contributions.


70: The number of former members of Congress lobbying on behalf of the financial sector in 2009. SOURCE: REPUBLIC LOST: HOW MONEY CORRUPTS CONGRESS — AND A PLAN TO STOP IT, LESSIG, LAWRENCE, P. 123

Health Care: Too much money in politics makes you sick

$1.4 million: The amount spent per day by the health care industry lobbying on the 2010 health care reform bill. SOURCE: WASHINGTON POST

1,546: The number of registered lobbyists employed by the pharmaceutical lobby alone — the Center for Public Integrity called the lobby “the biggest in the nation.” SOURCE: OPENSECRETS

63%: Percent of drug trials that are funded by the pharmaceutical industry. SOURCE: REPUBLIC LOST: HOW MONEY CORRUPTS CONGRESS — AND A PLAN TO STOP IT, LESSIG, LAWRENCE, P. 33

$34 billion: Total subsidy paid by American taxpayers to the 18 biggest banks in America each year, thanks to cheaper borrowing rates. SOURCE: REPUBLIC LOST: HOW MONEY CORRUPTS CONGRESS — AND A PLAN TO STOP IT, LESSIG, LAWRENCE, P.187

Environment: Too much money in politics keeps our world dirty

8:1: Opponents of Obama’s proposed climate bill outspent environmentalists 8:1 on lobbying.

$543 million: Amount spent by lobbyists to kill Obama’s climate bill.


$4 billion: Amount of tax breaks American taxpayers give to Big Oil companies each year. Meanwhile, the typical American household will have spent $4,155 filling up this year, which is a record high. SOURCE: THINKPROGRESS

$6.6 million: Amount donated by oil and gas industry PACs to federal candidates from January 2009 to June 2010. SOURCE: THINKPROGRESS

Government Waste: Too much money in politics gives us a big, bloated government

$100 billion: Increased revenue to drug companies, thanks to a deal struck by Obama with Big Pharma during healthcare reform legislation. SOURCE: REPUBLIC LOST: HOW MONEY CORRUPTS CONGRESS — AND A PLAN TO STOP IT, LESSIG, LAWRENCE, P.184

2,000%: For firms spending about $800,000 on lobbying a year, an increase of 1 percent in lobbying expenditures produced a tax benefit of anywhere from $4.8 million to $16 million — that’s a 600 percent to 2,000 percent return on investment. SOURCE: REPUBLIC LOST: HOW MONEY CORRUPTS CONGRESS — AND A PLAN TO STOP IT, LESSIG, LAWRENCE, P.202

$4 billion: Amount the federal government could save each year by ending tax subsidies to oil, gas and fossil fuel producers. SOURCE: ROOTSTRIKERS.ORG

Jobs: Too much money in politics keeps unemployment up

9%: Amount actually spent on jobs after a 2004 law gave companies a $63 billion tax break for job creation.

United Republic’s History of Campaign Corruption

Money has been corrupting politics for a long time. It’s up to us to stop it.

“The death-knell of the republic had rung as soon as the active power became lodged in the hands of those who sought, not to do justice to all citizens, rich and poor alike, but to stand for one special class and for its interests as opposed to the interests of others.” — Theodore Roosevelt, 1903

How We Got Here

Big Money’s corrupting role in politics has been around for a long time. But in the last 40 years, it’s gotten a whole lot worse.

Politicians used to have to raise a few hundred thousand dollars to run for office. Now they have to raise tens of millions. Meanwhile, the influence industry in Washington has become a very big business, spending tens of billions of dollars annually on lobbying, campaign contributions, deceptive PR campaigns and phony grass-roots groups.

As a result, political and lobbying organizations representing well-financed special interests have achieved overwhelming control of the public debate and policymaking.

How did the system get so out of control? And what has the fight for reform been so far?

Early 1900s

In 1905, Teddy Roosevelt called for, among other reforms, a ban on corporate participation in elections (although he had his own corporate fundraising scandal in his 1904 presidential campaign). Two years later, Congress passed the Tillman Act, which did exactly what Teddy asked — prohibited corporations from contributing to federal campaigns.

Forty years later, the Taft-Hartley Act fortified the Tillman Act, banning labor unions and corporations from spending money in federal elections and from making contributions to federal candidates.

The Modern Era

Modern campaign finance rules were born in 1971 with the passage of the Federal Election Campaign Act, which was strengthened in 1974 by the creation of the Federal Election Commission. Subsequent court cases and legislation — namely, Buckley v. Valeo (1976), McCain-Feingold (2002), McConnell v. FEC (2003) and Citizens United v. FEC (2010) — fought to reinterpret or reassert the framework established in 1971.

Buckley v. Valeo has, over the years, proven to be especially significant because it was the first U.S. Supreme Court decision to equate political money with speech — a concept that has been taken to its extreme in recent years and stood in the way of reform.

The last 40 years have also been marked by some good news — significant improvements in the tracking of campaign-finance data, as well as some legal skirmishes that have attempted to keep Big Money at bay and create greater transparency of spending. Unfortunately, though, too much money — both lobbying and political expenditures — remains hidden.

Very Recently

In January 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision blasted a hole in the laws that once tried to keep Big Money from completely flooding the system.

Political spending has increased dramatically over the past 30 years, but since Citizens United it has truly skyrocketed. The 2010 elections saw a record-breaking $489 million spent by outside groups — a 450 percent increase over the 2006 cycle.

So-called super PACs are proliferating at warp speed — a new breed of political action committees that can raise and spend unlimited sums of money to directly support or oppose candidates.

Corporations can now essentially spend whatever they want in elections. That’s, in part, why the 2012 election cycle is expected to cost $6 billion. And it’s why the industry trade associations representing energy, health care and financial services are poised to spend billions more in the coming years influencing policymaking through lobbying, television ads and other political activities.

Recent years have also seen the birth of a sustained backlash. New citizen movements — the Tea Party on the right and Occupy on the left — were born out of a sense that government is no longer responsive to the average citizen. In the same time frame, over a dozen constitutional amendments to curb the influence of money in politics have been proposed and state-level courts have begun handing down decisions that directly challenge the logic of Citizens United. Prodded by citizen activists, city councils in Los Angeles, New York and other major cities have passed resolutions in support of constitutional reform to reduce the influence of special interests and large donors in elections.

For more:

NPR: A Century of U.S.-Campaign Finance Law

The FEC: The Federal Election Campaign Laws: A Short History

Time: Campaign Financing: A Brief History

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