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.