Your Tuition, Money, and Politics? What Can Students Do?

Tom Ellison

As the 2008 Presidential race shows, when it comes to our elections all we hear about is how much money, money, money candidates are raising. A total of $420 million has already been raised for the election which is still a year away! Why don’t candidates talk about real issues?Like the fact that college costs are rising at more than twice the rate of inflation and driving up the amount that students and families must borrow.

What does student debt have to do with politics? A recent report from the College Board states that rising tuition “closely tracks changes in financing that colleges receive from state governments and other public sources.” But our politicians today spend more time raising money for their campaigns than listening to students cry for help. They have to, if they want to get reelected. But there is a solution.

The solution is publicly funded elections, commonly called Clean Elections. It is a voluntary system where candidates can qualify for a public grant to fund their campaigns, rather than relying on donations from a tiny sliver of private interests. There are numerous benefits. Candidates spend less time desperately fundraising and more time addressing the issues important to their constituents. More diverse candidates are able to run, rather than the select few with connections to big money. And most importantly, candidates elected “clean” are beholden to no one but their voters. They don’t have to worry that a given decision will dry up their funding and lose them their job.

This isn’t a pie-in-the-sky idea or an untested theory. Clean Elections are used in Maine, Connecticut, Arizona, North Carolina and other states and cities throughout the country with proven and measurable success. And now there is a chance to get Clean Elections for our national Congress.

Democracy Matters at Colgate is celebrating the “FENA WEEK OF ACTION” from Nov 12 to 16. FENA stands for the “Fair Elections Now Act.” It is a bill in Congress that would institute the Clean Elections option for our Senate and House of Representatives. It would give us Congressmen and women who are indebted to no one but their constituents; a Congress that can make policy to serve all of us, not just the quarter of a percent who fund their reelection campaigns.

Whatever issues you want addressed, a truly representative and accountable system is a prerequisite. Democracy Matters is a national student organization that is joining with groups like the NAACP, Common Cause, Sierra Club, AFL-CIO, Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund and many others to spread the word about the promise of Clean Elections. Join us to take back our democracy, stop the money chase, and create responsive, accountable elected officials. It just might mean lower college costs!