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.”

Official Statement on 2015 Elections and Ballot Initiatives


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.