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!