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Democracy Matters Applauds Connecticut Legislature’s Choice to Keep Clean Elections

On Monday November 16th, the Democrats in the Connecticut state legislature released a budget aimed to reduce shortfalls. Among the items to be chopped was Connecticut’s Clean Election Program. This program, implemented in 2005 after a corruption scandal involving then governor John Rowland, levels the playing field in the state elections through public financing of elections.

Under this law, once candidates raise a certain amount of money in small donations, they are entitled to a government grant to cover their election campaigns. This allows each candidate to spend his or her time talking to constituents, not searching for money. Clean Elections not only ensures that those without money can participate in the electoral process, but it also allows people of all socio-economic levels to run for office. The implementation of this system made Connecticut only the third state in the country to have publicly financed elections.

The November 16th proposal would have suspended Clean Elections for the 2016 election cycle. Though this would be a temporary measure, there was no guarantee that the law will reemerge as functional, or, if it would reappear at all. On Thursday November 19th, both houses of the state legislature declared that Clean Elections was no longer being considered for defunding.

Given overwhelming public support nationwide to limit the role of money in elections and the subsequent momentum created by Election Day victories in Maine, Seattle, and Ohio, the proposal to halt Clean Elections was baffling.

“In 2005, Democracy Matters students were in the center of the fight for Clean Elections in Connecticut. They worked tirelessly, putting in countless hours in addition to their studies and work, because they believed this law would be historic. They deeply felt that this reform would restore their faith in a system that, in their minds, had completely lost it,” Democracy Matters executive director, Joan Mandle, explained. “When the law finally passed, our students had a new outlook on the political process. They legitimately felt that their voices mattered, that they mattered. I was therefore greatly disappointed when I learned of the Connecticut legislature’s plan to defund Clean Elections. Suspending integrity and fairness in the electoral process in the face of budget cuts would have been shortsighted, undemocratic, and, frankly, shameful.”

Democracy Matters therefore applauds the Connecticut Democrats for having reconsidered defunding Clean Elections. We hope that the strong, immediate public backlash served as a reminder that a clean democratic process is not expendable.

Bernie Sanders Embraces Democracy Matters’ “Restore Democracy” Platform


Bernie Sanders Pledge Card

The Bernie Sanders campaign recently released their platform to “Get Big Money Out of Politics and Restore Democracy”. To us at Democracy Matters, his language and framing of the issue is refreshingly familiar.

Our candidate pledge, which Senator Sanders signed in October of 2014 (and was joined by Martin O’Malley in August of 2015) states “I support restoring democracy and getting big money out of politics”. Democracy Matters college chapters nationwide (over 60 nationally with a strong concentration in Iowa and New Hampshire) have been organizing on their campuses, already collecting thousands of pledge signatures. Democracy Matters students are determined to make restoring democracy a voting issue in the critical early states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Sanders’ plan seeks to restore a democracy that is accessible to all Americans, not merely the donor class. Democracy, which has historically been at the heart of the American identity, has been threatened to the core by a political system which no longer responds to the needs of the American people. Sanders’ plan calls for publicly financed elections, restoring the Voting Rights Act, automatic voter registration and making election day a national holiday. All of these initiatives have been long time priorities for the non-partisan Democracy Matters.

In response to the Sanders plan, Director of Political Engagement Max Stahl stated “We applaud Senator Sanders for not only signing our “Restore Democracy” pledge early, but for making restoring democracy a core part of his campaign for President. Senator Sanders correctly understands that this is a necessary step to make America work for everyone, not just the big political funders. Meanwhile Secretary Hillary Clinton has refused to sign Democracy Matters’ pledge to restore democracy despite numerous contacts between the campaign and Democracy Matters. We however remain hopeful that Clinton will sign the pledge and make this issue a central one of her campaign. Democracy Matters students and young people everywhere are watching closely.”

A highly cited 2014 study conducted by Professors Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page (of Princeton and Northwestern, respectively) concluded that “ In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”

Executive Director Joan Mandle concluded by saying “The well-researched Gilens and Page report makes it clear that America has drifted away from being the democracy we were all taught about in elementary school. This is a non-partisan issue and we call on all Presidential candidates to join Senator Sanders and Governor O’Malley by signing the Democracy Matters ‘Restore Democracy’ pledge.”

Democracy Matters Joins Coalition To Create Unprecedented Call To Restore Democracy

 

DS Capitol Meme

In spite of the fact that 84% of Americans believe that money has “too much influence” in our elections, Washington has done virtually nothing to address the issue of campaign finance reform. And while Congress remains idle, the situation has only become worse.

Each new election costs more than the last, and with this, greater numbers of ordinary Americans are removed from the political system, as their ability to make meaningful political contributions disappears. Those with affluence, on the other hand, gain more and more influence, allowing them to steer policy in a way that meets their interest, not that of the common good. As such, in the fight to restore our democracy it increasingly seems like we need nothing short of a miracle to make things better.

This miracle may not be so illusory, however. Today, Democracy Matters is excited to formally endorse Democracy Spring, an event that will serve as a wake up call to all politicians standing in the way of meaningful democratic reform.

On April 2nd, Democracy Matters and cosponsoring groups will meet in Philadelphia. It will be here, the birthplace of our democracy, that we will make a single, clear and reasonable demand to the United States Congress: “Take immediate action to end the corruption of big money in politics and ensure our elections are free, fair, and afford every American an equal voice, regardless of wealth.”

After Congress has been notified, we will march in unison, as our forbearers did, to Washington DC, speaking with all those we encounter, watching our numbers grow larger and our voices get louder with each city that we pass. If by the time we reach the Capitol on April 15th Congress has failed to act, we will conduct a sit-in, the largest in a generation. Those willing, by then over a thousand, will flood into the Capitol building, risking arrest. Congress will face a choice: stand with the people or throw us in jail. And while they ponder this question, thousands of other attendees will rally, making their voices heard, and relay to the rest of the country what Congress decides to do.

“I have informed the Democracy Spring organizers that I am willing to risk arrest, just as I did during the Civil Rights movement,” Democracy Matters executive director, Joan Mandle explained. “Restoring our democracy is that important. There can be no meaningful reform on any issue without first getting big money and special interests out of the electoral process. And although some politicians do not seem to understand it yet, public opinion and a social movement will soon show them that opposing reform is on the wrong side of history.”

Democracy Matters staff and student organizers will be in attendance, proudly joining celebrities and activists such as Mark Ruffalo, Zephyr Teachout, and Ben Cohen, and groups like 99Rise, Public Citizen, and the Working Families Party. We encourage those interested in Democracy Spring to visit their website (www.democracyspring.org) and consider signing up to join the event.

Campus Update: More Photos from Emerson College

Given how well the first set of photos from our Emerson students was received, we decided to release more! Below are some more powerful testimonies from students describing the importance of getting big money out of our political system.

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“People of color should have equal access to power and politics”

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“I want the voices of women like me to matter”

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“More diverse ages, colors, genders, and sexual orientations need representation!”

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“Everyone deserves to be represented, no matter their income”

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“Women still earn less than men and contribute significantly less to political campaigns”

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“Big money doesn’t care (as much) about working people or our planet”

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A great photo of all the testimonies put together! #GetMoneyOut!

Campus Update: Emerson Students Record Testimonials

Our students at Emerson College recently put together a photo series of student testimonies about why big money should be removed from our political system. Our students got some great statements, many of which give important insight into why our current campaign finance system discourages democratic participation from students. Here are a few of our favorites:
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“Big Oil Shouldn’t Control Congress”

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“Everyone Has The Right To Be Represented”

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“Corporations Aren’t Constituents”

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“Equal Representation Is What Our Country Was Built On”

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“Dollars Aren’t Votes”

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“It Should Be a Congress For The Citizens, Not Citizens United”

Emerson Caption Cards

“You Shouldn’t Have To Be Rich To Be Represented”

Official Statement on 2015 Elections and Ballot Initiatives

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The People Have Spoken: Overwhelming Victory for Pro-Democracy Advocates in 2015 Election

Hamilton, NY—After a long decade of Supreme Court decisions, deregulatory policies, and failed reform efforts that have decimated our electoral system, the pro-democracy community had a night to celebrate this past Tuesday.

While most political pundits focused on candidates in the run-up to the elections, yesterday featured three bold and novel ballot initiatives aimed at limiting the role of big money in elections and allowing ordinary people to regain a voice in the democratic process.

These provisions included: Question 1 in Maine, which proposed to increase funding for the existing state public financing system, raise penalties for violating disclosure laws, and enact new disclosure requirements targeting advertisements and communications[1]; Initiative 122 in Seattle, which proposed to enact a public financing system in which every registered voter in Seattle would be given a voucher to donate as s/he chooses, a pay-to-play law, and new regulations surrounding lobbying and disclosure[2]; and Issue 1 in Ohio which proposed to enact a bipartisan redistricting commission.[3]

Although some votes are still being tallied, these measures were adopted by overwhelming margins. Question 1 in Maine received 55% of the vote, I-122 won by over 60%, and Issue 1 had a victory margin of over 70%! The fact that these initiatives won so handedly accurately illustrates the widespread anger over an election system that privileges big money over ordinary people.

“To have just won one of these measures would have been a huge victory. Winning all three is, quite frankly, historic,” Democracy Matters executive director, Joan Mandle, explained. “The people spoke loudly and clearly: the current state of democracy in the United States is unacceptable. Politicians should take note that opposing meaningful election reform to strengthen democracy is an increasingly unpopular and untenable position”.

As a NYT/CBS poll showed over the summer, 84% of Americans believe money has too much influence in elections.[4] The results in Ohio, Maine, and Seattle certainly illustrate this sentiment. Yet, these victories show something more. They show that even in the face of a malfunctioning and unequal democratic system, Americans have not given up. Rather, people of all political beliefs are standing up in bipartisan unison to say “No” to the big money flooding into our elections. The American people are fighting to reclaim the democratic process for the people.

Democracy Matters commends all those on the ground who helped turn these initiatives into successful reform efforts. We were honored to have been a part of the coalition that is helping to create a government of, by and for the people. We look forward to carrying the momentum gained on Tuesday into the future.

[1] http://ballotpedia.org/Maine_%22Clean_Elections%22_Initiative,_Question_1_(2015)

[2] http://honestelectionsseattle.org/what-is-initiative-122/

[3] http://ballotpedia.org/Ohio_Bipartisan_Redistricting_Commission_Amendment,_Issue_1_(2015)

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/06/02/us/politics/money-in-politics-poll.html?_r=0

Campus Update: Vassar Chapter Illustrates Importance of Local Elections

Vassar

On Wednesday October 28th, the Vassar College chapter of Democracy Matters hosted a “Candidates Forum” in which local candidates met with students to explain why they were running for office and to answer questions. In attendance were Ann Shershin (Poughkeepsie Town Council), Rita Langva (Dutchess County Legislator District 6), Craig Brendli (Dutchess County Legislator District 8), Katherine Moloney (County Court Judge), Patricia Mcloughlin (County Court Judge), Tracy MacKenzie (Family Court Judge), and Lisa Ghartey (Family Court Judge). The event proved to be a success, drawing a large number of students and local town residents who were eager to learn more about the upcoming elections.

One of the major topics addressed at the forum was how money affects campaigns at the local level. The candidate running for County Executive, Diane Jablonski, for example, announced she was campaigning to enact a Pay to Play law, which would reduce the amount contractors could donate and still be eligible for government contracts. She claimed to have gotten the idea for this law after DM members attended a local Democratic Committee meeting last spring to explain the importance of campaign finance and specifically the viability of Pay to Play legislation.

Similarly, students learned about how local judge races are financed. The judicial candidates explained to the audience that they may not ask for donations, but are allowed to have a committee, which controls their finances and takes donations on their behalf. The goal of this funding mechanism is to prevent judicial candidates from knowing who has donated and how much has been donated. It struck some students in attendance as troublesome, however, that attorneys and firms are allowed to donate up to $5,000 to these judicial races.

Overall, for the politicians in attendance, this event successfully dispelled the myth that youth are politically apathetic; and for the students, it convinced them that local elections are indeed important. The event also made clear to many in the audience that in local elections (for which the cost to run is relatively low) one large donation has the power to swing a race.

Well done to our Vassar chapter for putting on this great event!

Campus Update: Gettysburg DM attracts large membership, plans big things

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Democracy Matters at Gettysburg College has gotten off to a great start this semester.

Last Friday, Democracy Matters students participated in the Gettysburg College fall activities fair. Activities fairs are an annual or biannual event in which new students listen to representatives of student clubs about their respective organizations. For most chapters, these fairs are the ideal time to recruit new members.

In order to be heard within the hundreds of other organizations, Democracy Matters interns are forced to perfect their pitches about why joining Democracy Matters is worthwhile. This year, the DM students at Gettysburg, including their campus coordinator Jeffrey Lauck, made this look easy, as they got over 30 people to sign up to be on their mailing list.

Not only was this a huge success in it of itself, but it was also followed on Monday by another success. During the group’s first meeting of the semester, over 25 people showed up (a new record for them!).

Gettysburg Students

During the meeting, the group watched the DM introduction video and began to plan events for the semester. Among the events under consideration: a live stream of the presidential debates, the creation of a Gettysburg DM informational video, a public lecture, a voter registration drive, and a letter/phone/email campaign to put pressure on their elected representatives to enact campaign finance reform.

We are extremely proud of our Gettysburg interns for their wonderful start to the year and wish them the best of luck with their upcoming events!

Campus Update: Vassar’s Chapter Shines in Voter Registration Effort

Vassar

For the past three years, Vassar College’s chapter of Democracy Matters has turned voter registration into one of their most important and successful events of the year. This is largely because they have developed a unique strategy to meet with and successfully register large numbers of students.

At Vassar, during freshman orientation, every new student must sign a book of matriculation in order to become an official Vassar student. Our interns saw potential in this concentrated traffic, so they partnered with the school’s administration to install tables for voter registration in the same room as the book. Therefore, right after a student signs the book, an administrator directs that student towards Democracy Matters for the option to register to vote.

This registration program is in its third year at Vassar and the event has been ingrained in the social consciousness of the campus as it has been permanently added to the orientation programming.

On August 28th, over the course of six hours, Vassar’s two Democracy Matters campus coordinators, Sophie Gonsalves-Brown and Samuel Beckenhauer, and four members of their club were able to register 362 students in a class of 668. That’s more than half of the entire freshmen class!

Of the 362 registered, 132 were registered in Dutchess County, NY (home of Vassar) and 230 in the location of their home addresses (this latter group was registered with a voter registration software called TurboVote).

Our intern Sophie had this to say about the success: “Considering approximately 15% of the 2019 class was ineligible to vote because of age or citizenship status, to have registered 362 freshmen is frankly remarkable. I think our non-partisan status and committed, enthusiastic student volunteers fostered a good environment in which everyone who wanted to register could do so regardless of political beliefs or background.”

The success of this voter registration drive also helped the Vassar chapter in its political organizing. Our intern Samuel told us, “I believe that showing we are interested in tangible action at the local level, as well as being non-partisan is the most effective recruiting tool we have. There is no explanation necessary, everyone gets it.”

Samuel continued, “The 130 that registered are now a voting bloc. They can vote and make demands of their representatives. In the upcoming months, the Vassar chapter will provide these students with information about the upcoming elections, including information about the candidates and how and where to vote”. The club hopes to continue to register students to vote up until the registration deadline on October 9th.

In the past three years, Vassar has registered almost 1000 students.

Update: Turbovote highlighted our interns’ efforts in their recent email update! (Read it here). Our interns singlehandedly put Vassar in fifth place among participating school in total number of voters registered and second place in percentage of the student body registered! Wow! Go Vassar!

Hillary Clinton Responds to Growing Social Movement

Hillary Clinton’s statement today calling for real change in the campaign financing system is an important step toward giving all Americans a voice in their democracy. Democracy Matters is delighted that Secretary Clinton has responded to the growing social movement calling for a government of, by and for the people by making this statement calling for reform.

The vast majority of the American people are disgusted by the increasing ability of wealthy individuals to influence our elections. The young people and college students who are members of Democracy Matters on college campuses throughout the country understand that the issues they care about – the environment, student debt, growing inequality and more – will be addressed only when we have a fair system of financing campaigns that includes the voices of all citizens, not just those whose wealth is enabling them to silence the rest of us.

Democracy Matters students are doing the grassroots organizing that is helping to build the broad movement that will continue to demand that politicians support real change. Secretary Clinton’s statement is a good step in that direction. We hope that she will continue to be a champion of campaign finance reform.

Democracy Matters’ “Restore Democracy” pledge has been signed by other Democratic candidates as well as by hundreds of young people. It reads “I support restoring democracy by publicly financing elections and getting big money out of politics.” We hope that Secretary Clinton will soon join with others in signing this pledge.