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"Candidates should be accountable to, and dependent on, regular folks — not only people, special-interest groups and institutions with lots of money," argues Joe Ready.

How you and your neighbors are offering an alternative to the ‘big-donor primary’

Ready is democracy program director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which advocates for the public interest.

The presidential election is less than a year away and the Democratic voting begins in less than three months, but every day between now and then, the candidates are also competing in a "big-money primary."

You didn't get a ballot for the big-money primary? Don't worry, most of us don't. Here's how it works. Running for office is incredibly expensive. Unless candidates are independently wealthy, they often need to court contributions from megadonors or corporate interests to be competitive in their races. So, a very small number of people have massive influence on who runs for office — and well before any of us get a chance to cast a ballot. It's been this way for years.

But in the 2020 presidential election, there are signs that big money's grip on our democracy may be loosening. Through October, contributions of less than $200 were the single largest source of funding for the presidential candidates, according to a U.S. PIRG analysis of Federal Election Commission data. In total, candidates have raised almost $192 million in small-donor funds. That's nearly twice as much as the total contributions from big-donor-funded political action committees and other organizations. It's also nearly $100 million more than candidates had raised at the same point in the 2016 campaign.

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