On Thursday, October 22, the Democracy Matters club held a Brown Bag discussion titled “So What Do the Candidates REALLY Think?” Democracy Matters is a national, non-partisan student organization whose goal is to educate students about the role of private money in the political system and the impact it has on democracy in the United States. The organization was started by Colgate alumnus Adonal Foyle ’98. The objective of this student-led discussion was to educate students about campaign finance reform as the 2016 presidential elections approach, a topic which may be unfamiliar to many students.
Members of the Democracy Matters club provided a basic understanding of the role of campaign finance in elections. The moderators explained that there is currently a political effort to reform campaign finance regulations in the United States and that it is an important policy issue for candidates running in the 2016 presidential election. Most candidates have publicized their views on campaign finance reform, making it a point of contention in recent presidential
Democracy Matters president sophomore Jessica Blau and other club members briefly summarized the candidates’ views on campaign finance reform and how this topic would be included in their policy agenda if elected president. The moderators explained that Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley are in favor of campaign finance reform. Each candidate intends to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Committee if elected president. This decision currently allows individuals to donate unlimited funding to campaigns without full disclosure. The students speaking at the event also explained that Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush are in favor of the allowance of unlimited funding to political campaigns.
After the presentation from club members, Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Emerita, and club advisor and Executive Director of Democracy Matters Joan Mandle discussed the impact of campaign finance on democracy. She explained that most money donated to campaigns comes from a very small percentage of the population. Mandle emphasized that this creates a bias in decision-making, as the candidate who ultimately gets elected will feel especially accountable to the citizens who donated generously to their campaign.
“There is a crisis of money and politics in this country,” Mandle said.
Mandle expressed the need for a more diverse group of representatives, and the members of Democracy Matters believe that, through campaign finance reform, this goal can be achieved.
The conversation was then opened to the audience, allowing students to ask questions in order to gain a better understanding of the implications of campaign finance on the upcoming presidential election. Students were intrigued by the topic and posed numerous questions, as campaign finance reform is not a topic that is frequently discussed. This discussion provided students with the opportunity to engage with classmates about the upcoming presidential election and campaign finance reform.
“The candidates for the 2016 election are really starting to talk about campaign finance reform and public financing of elections because of the pressure put on them by voters and young people like us. I think it’s really important to stay informed about this issue so that we can make good decisions about who to vote for in November,” Blau said.
“Campaign finance reform is very important and it often does not get much attention from the American population or politicians. I agree with Bernie Sanders that this is not a Republican or Democratic problem. This is an American problem. The public should make an effort to promote a public method of campaign finance so that our politicians will be held more accountable for their actions, thus strengthening our democracy,” senior and Democracy Matters member Ali Vangrow said.