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Every Voice sends out Daily Clips to keep you informed of about how lobbyists, big donors, and Donald Trump’s conflicts are influencing his administration and Congress; and about the good news around the country of communities coming together to fight for a democracy that works for all of us.

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Reports & Overviews of the Democracy Crisis & Solutions from Organizations in the Guide

Campaign Finance in the United States
Assessing an Era of Fundamental Change

Bipartisan Policy Center

What Is and What Could Be
The Potential Impact of Small Donor Matching Funds in New York State Elections

Campaign Finance Institute

Blueprints for Democracy
Actionable Reforms to Solve Our Governing Crisis

Campaign Legal Center & Issue One

A Timeline
How Corporations and Labor Unions Came to Bankroll Our Nominating Conventions

Campaign Legal Center

Democracy at a Crossroads
How the One Percent Is Silencing Our Voices

Democracy Initiative Education Fund

Bankrolling the Bench
The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-2014

Scott Greytak, Alicia Bannon, Allyse Falce, & Linda Casey

Secret Spending in the States

Chisun Lee, Katherine Valde, Benjamin T. Brickner, Douglas Keith at the Brennan Center for Justice

The Political Market

Jay R. Mandle

Why Voting Matters
Large Disparities in Turnout Benefit the Donor Class

Sean McElwee at Demos

Captive Constituents
Prison-Based Gerrymandering & the Distortion of Our Democracy

The Political Participation Group

The Koch Effect
The Impact of a Cadre-Led Network on American Politics

Theda Skocpol and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez

The Big Picture
How Democracies Are Striving to Protect Government from Control by Moneyed Interests

Small Planet Institute

Democracy vs. Money
Americans Can’t Agree on Anything, Right? Wrong. A Money-in-Politics Infographic

Small Planet Institute

Shadow Campaign
The Shift in Presidential Campaign Funding to Outside Groups

Ian Vandewalker at the Brennan Center

Books about the Roots of the Democracy Crisis and Solutions

The New Jim Crow
Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Michelle Alexander

Give Us the Ballot
The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America

Ari Berman

When Money Speaks
The McCutcheon Decision, Campaign Finance Laws, and the First Amendment

Ronald K. L. Collins & David M. Skover

The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy

David Daley

The Business of America is Lobbying
How Corporations Became Politicized and Politics Became More Corporate

Lee Drutman

Plutocrats United
Campaign Money, the Supreme Court, and the Distortion of American Elections

Richard L. Hasen

Capitalism v. Democracy
Money in Politics and the Free Market Constitution

Timothy Kuhner

Daring Democracy
Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for the America We Want

Frances Moore Lappé & Adam Eichen

Republic, Lost
The Corruption of Equality and the Steps to End It

Lawrence Lessig

It’s Even Worse Than It Looks
How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism

Thomas E. Mann & Norman J. Ornstein

Dark Money
The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right

Jane Mayer

How the Money and Media Election Complex Is Destroying America

John Nichols & Robert W. McChesney

Nation on the Take
How Big Money Corrupts Our Democracy and What We Can Do About It

Wendell Potter & Nick Penniman

The Great Suppression
Voting Rights, Corporate Cash, and the Conservative Assault on Democracy

Zachary Roth

Glossary of Terms

Automatic Voter Registration

All eligible voters should be registered to vote. And in order to advance our kitchen table issues we must be on the voter rolls to be able to advocate for ourselves. A vote is a voice. Giving more constituents a voice encourages elected officials to be more responsive and increases faith in our democracy and government institutions. When Americans know they’re being heard, they’re more likely to participate in elections. Automatic Voter Registration enables state governments the ability to register eligible voters. Based on information obtained through government interactions (e.g. Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of Human Services) the state registers eligible people to vote and allows them to opt out of the process if they so choose. AVR is portability which means when voters move and update their addresses with the DMV, their registration is automatically update. Automatic Voter registration is a great opportunity to modernize our elections and save taxpayers’money.

Buckley v. Valeo (1976)

Decision by Supreme Court except where noted otherwise:
Limits on contributions to individual parties or campaigns are constitutional. But limits on most types of independent, total political spending by an individual are not constitutional because they limit free speech.

Resulting Rule Change:
All limits are eliminated for:

  1. Independent expenditures by individuals
  2. Total campaign spending by a campaign itself
  3. Use of personal funds by a candidate’s family for a campaign
Citizens United v. FEC (2010)

Decision by Supreme Court except where noted otherwise:
Corporations acting as groups of individuals have many of the same political rights as the individuals within that group. Therefore, the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision applies equally to corporations and individuals.

Resulting Rule Change:
Corporations and unions can now, like individuals, spend unlimited amounts on independent expenditures.


Direct dollars given to a candidate, political party, or PAC.

Example: Jane is running for president. John gives money to Jane to help run her campaign.


The FEC mandates a “three-pronged test” to determine whether a communication is coordinated:

  • Who paid for it?
  • Is its content an election communication?
  • Did it result from a request or suggestion from the candidate, campaign, or committee?

All three “prongs” must point to coordination for a communication to be deemed “coordinated.” Given the explosive growth of independent expenditures, however, Commissioner Ravel notes that relevant FEC rules need updating.

Example: Jane is running for president. Without consulting Jane or her campaign, John spends money on his own or donates it to a super PAC to support Jane’s winning the presidency.

Dark Money

Funds given to “social welfare” organizations—sometimes called by their tax code status“501c(4)”—that are then used to influence elections. Originally conceived as a way to allow traditional charities also to take part in political action, they have grown massively in the last decade. By law, these organizations are required to devote a majority of their activities to social welfare rather than political purposes, so they wouldn’t appear to be an efficient channel for campaign funds. But, for donors who prefer to keep their identities secret, they work: Neither the FEC nor IRS requires 501c(4) organizations to disclose the sources of their funds. Thus the moniker “dark money.”

Example: Jane is running for president. John gives money to a 501c(4) organization, which in turn donates that money to a campaign or super PAC, effectively hiding John’s name from the record.

Federal Election Commission (FEC)

Established by Congress through a 1974 amendment to the “Federal Election Campaign Act,” the FEC began its work in 1975. Its mandate is to oversee and enforce campaign finance rules, though a series of court cases have removed or weakened some of the rules that the agency was established to enforce. The FEC’s six commissioners are appointed by the president with approval from Congress. By law, no more than three can be affiliated with the same political party.

Independent Expenditure

Any spending by an individual or group for political objectives that is not coordinated with a candidate or the candidate’s campaign committee or party; and therefore is not restricted.

Joint Fundraising Committee

A joint fundraising committee (JFC) allows a single entity to raise funds on behalf of:

  • National campaign committees
  • State campaign committees
  • National political party committees
  • State political party committees
  • Multiple candidates

Rather than a donor giving the legal individual maximum to those groups individually, the donor can write a single check for the combined legal maximum values to a JFC. For donors, this doesn’t change the possible total amount that could be donated, but it greatly simplifies  the process by allowing them to give large amounts of money at once. For the committees that make up the JFC, it allows them to combine fundraising costs and then split the proceeds.

Use of JFCs:

Individual total giving was limited — the more committees there were in a JFC meant each committee got a smaller amount of the money given, as the total amount of money from an individual cannot change. Therefore, there was less incentive to band together.

Individual total giving is not limited — more committees in a JFC means a larger single check an individual can write, enabling wealthy individuals to easily give massive donations.

Example: Jane wants to run for President. Rather than asking her wealthy donor to give to her party, her national campaign, and 50 different individual state campaigns, Jane can ask for one very large donation to her joint fundraising committee. This committee will then do the work of dispersing the money appropriately according to individual contribution limits for each group in the committee.

McCutcheon v. FEC (2014)

Decision by Supreme Court except where noted otherwise:
While limits on contributions to PACs, parties, and candidates are constitutional, aggregate limits for individual contributions to these entities are not.

Resulting Rule Change:
Since 1976, individuals and groups have been limited in how much they could give directly to a candidate, party, or PAC; and until McCutcheon, total political contributions within a given two-year period were also limited. This ruling, however, eliminated aggregate limits so that individuals and groups can now give the maximum legal amount directly to campaigns, parties, or PACs in every race during every electoral season.

Political Action Committee (PAC)

Originating in 1944, a political action committee is a group affiliated with a party, issue, or candidate that raises or spends money for political purposes. Regulated by theFEC, PACs must reveal the source of their donations in regular reports. Contributors to PACs are limited in what they can donate and PACs themselves are limited in what they can donate to other political bodies. Unlike super PACs (see below), however, these groups may coordinate directly with candidates and campaigns.

Example: Jane is running for president. Any group that wants to work with Jane’s campaign can form a PAC, but that group will have to register with the FEC and report its donations and spending to the FEC.

Political Spending

Any money spent for political ends. In addition to contributions (see above), this term also includes expenditures directly by candidates, PACs, and parties, as well as independent expenditures by groups or individuals. Of all the types of political spending, courts have ruled that only contributions directly given to registered PACs, parties, or candidates can be limited by the law.

Example: Jane is running for president. Anyone, including Jane, who spends any money to support (or counter) Jane’s campaign through any means is engaging in political spending.

Publicly Financed Elections

Every voice should be valued in our democracy. When moneyed interests and corporations push out the voices of everyday citizens, it hurts our economy, our planet, and our communities. Publicly financed elections allow for everyday people to contribute to candidates of their choice. This encourages voters to be more engaged, and elected leaders are more responsive to the concerns of the communities they represent.

SpeechNow.org v. FEC (2010)

Decision by Supreme Court except where noted otherwise:
The D.C. Court of Appeals, in the first major decision to cite Citizens United, rules that if individuals and corporations can make unlimited independent expenditures, it is unconstitutional to limit contributions to independent expenditure-only political groups.

Resulting Rule Change:
The decision enabled the emergence of super PACs—a.k.a. independent expenditure-only organizations—that can receive and pool unlimited contributions and spend as much as they want, as long as that spending is not “coordinated” with a campaign or party.

Super PACs

Technically known as “Independent Expenditure-Only Political Action Committees,” these groups emerged following two major 2010 court decisions (Citizens United v. FEC, SpeechNow.org v. FEC), which made them legal. These groups are required to submit records of donors and political spending to the FEC, but are not limited in terms of how much they can collect or spend. Unlike regular PAC’s, however, these groups can only make independent expenditures.

Example: A group collects as much money as they’d like and spends it on commercials to support Jane for president. As long as they don’t “coordinate” with Jane or her campaign, they can raise and spend as much money as they like.

Daily Actions

Every day is an opportunity to engage in democracy. Call your senator, attend a town hall, register someone to vote--there are endless ways to get involved and have your voice heard. Follow our Daily Action tips for more ideas on how you can engage as a citizen.