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.

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!

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: 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!

Further Questions for Hillary Clinton

(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?