Democracy Matters to Colgate Students

Student members of Democracy Matters attended the fourth annual National Student Summit last weekend. Held at the University of Albany, the summit included students from 51 colleges across the country, who engaged in discourse on the state of democracy in the United States. First-year John Kelly, sophomores Lucy Fang Cui and Whitney Meredith and seniors Ben Fishel and Brandy Bones represented Colgate.Democracy Matters is a nonpartisan, nonprofit group started in 2001 by NBA player Adonal Foyle ’98. Currently serving as president of the group, he founded the organization to increase student discussion and activism, especially pertaining to the issue of campaign finance reform.Indeed, this type of reform was the subject of discussion at the summit. “Adonal Foyle was in attendance at the summit and spoke about the importance of why clean elections, clean money reform is necessary,” Bones said. According to Bones, Hannah Pingree, a Congresswoman in the Maine State House of Representatives, spoke to the group about her experience running under clean elections in Maine. “She talked about how much easier it is to get things done and how she was able to knock on her constituents doors and raise the money necessary,” Bones said. “She didn’t need to fundraise from special interests.”The clean elections Bones spoke of involve “The Clean Money, Clean Elections (CMCE)” approach to campaigning. This system shifts the focus of elections away from special and private interests. “This is because individuals who participate in CMCE agree not to vie for or spend private money,” Bones said, “but are instead granted a set amount of money from the Clean Money fund. In other words, CMCE is a form of public campaigning.” Many states have such programs in place. Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina and Vermont all promote public campaigning.The summit entailed more than just guest speakers. “Saturday was spent in workshops,” Bones said, “[where we learned] more about campaign finance reform, how to use technology for social change, how to speak to groups about the issue and organizing on campus.”Participants felt that the experience was a positive one that shed new light on the democratic process. “The [Democracy Matters] summit was extremely informative and inspirational for our cause,” Fishel said. “Finance reform is a bi-partisan issue, which works to restore democracy and increase the will of the people. Far too many elected officials are beholden to the interests of their private donors, and public financing can restore accountability to voters.”Fishel also believes that more public financing can reduce the exorbitant amount of time and effort in which politicians spend collecting campaign money. “Although we realize that public financing is not a perfect solution,” he said, “we believe it is a step in the right direction.”The goal of Democracy Matters is to sustain and enhance the democratic process by increasing student activism on college campuses. It hopes to ensure that the leaders of tomorrow will be informed and mindful of civic processes that underlie the government. “The most amazing part of publicly financed elections is that this idea is completely feasible,” Cui said. “It’s really so simple and so achievable. Why aren’t more people doing something about it?”