Democracy Matters Visits Albany

Christine Hebert

This weekend, the Colgate chapter of Democracy Matters traveled to Albany to participate in the group’s National Summit. Seniors Mollie Reilly and Sarah Finn, the group’s campus coordinators, attended this year’s summit, accompanied by W. Bradford Wiley Professor of Economics Jay Mandle, who led one of the workshops.

Democracy Matters at Colgate was started nine years ago by Adonal Foyle ’98, current NBA-player and one of Colgate’s best-known alumni. According to Reilly, the organization was founded on the basis of promoting “fair” and “clean” elections and encouraging students to be politically active.

Mandle, Foyle’s adoptive father, has been involved in Democracy Matters since it began and now writes a monthly column entitled “Money on my Mind,” while also serving as the treasurer for the organization.

According to Finn, Democracy Matters aims to promote campaign finance reform as well as encourage student participation in “politics such as writing letters and calling their representatives and urging them to support the Fair Elections Now Act, which would institute voluntary public funding of elections in Congress.”

Since its founding nine years ago, Colgate’s chapter of Democracy Matters has held rallies, brought speakers to campus and lobbied for campaign finance reform in Washington, D.C. and Albany.

The group has offered voter registration during first-year orientation, co-sponsored many election events and organized brown bags, lectures, letter-writing drives, canvassing campaigns and visits to Hamilton Central School. Currently, the group is planning a political art show and a brown bag lunch to discuss health care reform.

Since it began at Colgate, Democracy Matters has been sending representatives to the annual summit. This year, the summit was held in Albany, where over 100 group members from all over the country gathered to discuss current issues facing the country, learn new ways to promote awareness and discover what other Democracy Matters chapters are doing. According to Reilly, much of the discussion focused on passing the Fair Elections Now Act, which is especially pertinent following the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

The Supreme Court ruling of the case ended with a five-to-four decision in favor of Citizens United that essentially implied that special interest groups and corporations have the ability to use their power and money to sway votes right before an election.

“We believe [that the Fair Elections Now Act] is the best and most immediate answer to the Supreme Court’s disastrous ruling, so learning more about the details of the act and how to best advocate for it was very helpful,” Reilly said. “We look forward to educating the rest of our campus and community about this issue.”

Already Colgate’s chapter has been protesting the ruling and has gathered about 50 signatures of students who are in opposition to it.

At the summit, Mandle led a workshop that dealt with President Obama’s agenda, particularly with regards to health care reform, his response to the financial crisis and the need for investments in alternative energy sources.

“In each case the new administration came into office eager to reform, but has been stymied by the power of well-funded special interests,” Mandle said.

Two influential political figures spoke to the Democracy Matters’ members. First to take the stand was Gary Holder-Winfield, a member of the Connecticut state legislature. Holder-Winfield was elected using only public funds to run his campaign. According to Mandle, Holder-Winfield discussed how the Fair Election system allowed him to serve the low-income constituents.

The second keynote speaker was Bob Edger, the President and CEO of the nonpartisan, non-profit advocacy organization, Common Cause. Edger discussed his position at Common Cause as well as his six terms in the House of Representatives.

“For me the highlight was when he quoted extensively [and by memory] inspirational words from a speech by King that Edgar attended just five weeks before King was assassinated,” Mandle said.

With the large turnout and lively discussions, this year’s Democracy Matters Summit was deemed a success by all Colgate attendees. As Finn explained, many ideas were shared as a diverse group of student-activists were brought together to discuss campaign finance reform, a cause with implications for all.