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.”
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!
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.
(Note: For more coverage of this video and Donald Trump’s position on campaign finance, check out this article by Jon Schwarz of The Intercept).
At his official Iowa announcement speech at Hoyt Sherman Place in Iowa, Democracy Matters chapter President and student at Des Moines Area Community College, Kyle Chapman, asked Mr. Trump his thoughts on publically funded campaigns. What he said in response certainly surprised us. Watch the video below:
Democracy Matters has some follow-up questions for Mr. Trump:
We look forward to hearing more about what Mr. Trump and other Republican presidential contenders have to say on the topic of public financing.
Clinton: “I Believe in Publicly Financed Elections”
Iowa City, IA — Secretary Hillary Clinton became the third major Democratic Presidential candidate to declare support for publicly financed elections — a positive sign for Americans who want to see big money out of politics.
“Hillary Clinton joining Sanders and O’Malley in support for public financing of elections is a testament to the groundswell of support for elections that live up to our ideals as Americans” said Adonal Foyle, Founder of Democracy Matters “Given the overwhelming bi-partisan disgust with the influence of money in politics, we look forward to support from Republican candidates as well. The next step for campaigns is to lay out specific plans on how they hope to restore democracy. Students will be watching closely.”
Secretary Clinton laid out her position in response to a question from Mason Buonadonna, a 20 year-old junior and President of the University of Iowa Democracy Matters chapter.
Clinton further stated her support to reverse the effects two Supreme court cases that helped define money as speech, known widely as ‘Citizens United’ and ‘Buckley v. Valeo’. This mention of the Buckley case is notable as she had not previously discussed it in either her announcement speech or subsequent campaign events.
Democracy Matters is a non-partisan student organization focused on addressing the root problem of money in politics with over 60 chapters nationwide and a strong footprint in both the politically crucial early states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
For a link to the video containing Ms. Clinton’s comments and additional questions Democracy Matters would like her to answer, click here.
(Note: For more information, see Jon Schwarz piece in the Intercept here)
On July 7, 2015 in Iowa City, Iowa, Mason, a DM student intern at the University of Iowa, asked Secretary Hillary Clinton about her stance on public financing of elections. She replied, “I believe in publicly financed elections”.
The footage can be seen below:
Democracy Matters students are encouraged by Secretary Clinton’s statement declaring her belief in publicly financed elections. We would, however, like her to further clarify her position. We therefore pose the following questions publicly in hopes of getting a more comprehensive answer:
1. Senator Bernie Sanders signed our organization’s “Democracy Pledge” which states “I support restoring democracy by publicly financing elections and taking big money out politics”. Will you commit to joining Senator Sanders by signing the Democracy Pledge?
2. While it is great news that you “believe in public financing of elections”, those of us interested in restoring a fair democracy for all Americans are anxious to hear your specific legislative plans. Do you support John Sarbanes’ Government by the People Act? Would you make it’s passage a top priority of your administration from day 1? Why or why not?
3. In your answer to Mason you state that you would support a constitutional amendment to overturn both Citizens United and the Buckley case “if necessary”. What is your criteria for defining “necessary”. Are we already at that “necessary” point, why or why not?
4. Democracy Matters is part of a broad coalition of money in politics groups that have signed on in support of a “21st Century Democracy Agenda” which outlines the principles we collectively feel that all Presidential candidates serious about this issue should embrace. Will you commit to both filling out the coalition’s questionnaire and meeting with coalition leaders in person?
5. Will you use your voice and platform as a Presidential candidate to educate people that overturning Citizens United only gets us back to 2009, and that we need more fundamental elections reform?
6. Vice President Joe Biden recently suggested support for a “law that would get private money out of the political process”. Would you support such a law? Why or why not?
Democracy Matters “Restore Democracy” Pledge Card signed by Senator Bernie Sanders
While our students are busy creating campus chapters and forming coalitions with community members for campaign finance reform, they are also asking Presidential candidates if they will sign the Democracy Matters “Restore Democracy Pledge”. The pledge reads: “I support restoring democracy by publicly financing elections and taking big money out of politics.” These pledges serve as promises to the American public that if elected, meaningful campaign finance reform—which includes public financing of elections—will be a central tenant of the administration’s policy objectives. Thus far, the only candidate to have agreed to the pledge is Senator Bernie Sanders, who signed the card in October 2014 (well before he announced his candidacy for President).
Any one is welcome to take the pledge, whether as a candidate or ordinary citizen. We will soon have it up online so for easy access and dissemination.