IN THIS ISSUE:
DM SUMMIT...CAMPUS HIGHLIGHT...EQUALITY: FORWARD OR BACK?...
MONEY ON MY MIND...THE GREAT DEBATE...CALLING OUT THE KOCH BROTHERS...
NEW YORK PUBLIC FINANCING...FACTS YOU CAN USE
10TH ANNUAL DEMOCRACY MATTERS STUDENT SUMMIT
The end of January saw over 100 stalwart Democracy Matters members, staff, alumns, Board members and friends convening in Albany, NY for the 10th annual Summit. This year’s theme was “Fighting the Corporate Take-Over.” As always, DM students engaged in a lively exchange of best practices from their fall organizing successes and brainstormed how to improve both campus outreach and education this coming spring.
Interactive skills workshops included: Speaker Training; Effective Lobbying; Running a S.M.A.R.T Campus Campaign; Careers in Social Change; Becoming a Public Financing Expert; and The Rapidly Changing World of Social and Print Media.
Attendees had the opportunity to meet and talk with our two keynote speakers, Democracy Matters founder Adonal Foyle, and Representative Gary Holder-Winfield (CT), a participant in CT’s public financing campaign system. In addition, the Summit was enlivened by the presence and contributions of staff members from allied organizations including Common Cause, Public Campaign, and Citizen Action of New York.
CAMPUS HIGHLIGHT: BROWN UNIVERSITY
For the last nine years, students in the Brown University chapter of Democracy Matters have been organizing to get big money out of politics both nationally and in Rhode Island. From weekly canvassing trips throughout the state, to working closely with legislators on a R. I. Fair Elections bill, to helping to build a broad coalition of organizations in the local community dedicated to fair elections, there is never a dull moment at Brown. Students publish “potty politics” (hung in bathroom stalls), newsletters, reach out to other campus organizations, and have their articles about money and politics regularly appear not only in the school newspaper but also in the Providence Journal and other local papers.
This November, DM at Brown organized and hosted an “Activist Boot Camp.” The camp included many Brown students but it also drew students from other RI colleges and universities. Featuring hands-on workshops and guest speakers, students honed their organizing skills and networked with other student activists. Want to organize an event like this on your campus? Brown students are eager to share their experiences with other DM leaders. Contact
for more information.
EQUALITY: FORWARD OR BACK?
Last month, the week of January 17th juxtaposed the hope for reform -- still strong in America -- with the serious barriers blocking a more fair and inclusive society. On Monday of that week we celebrated the birthday of Martin Luther King. We recalled the strength and determination of the thousands who fought to guarantee the civil rights of African-Americans and to remove the poison of prejudice and discrimination from our midst. And then at the end of the week, Friday January 21st, we marked the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision giving wealthy special interests unlimited ability to spend money to influence our elections.
While Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement sought to increase equality of opportunity for everyone, the Citizens United decision worsened our country’s already glaring political inequality and granted even more power to a small minority of privileged people.
As Democracy Matters celebrates Black History Month in February, the contrast couldn’t be more stark: Will we move forward, creating a democracy where everyone has an voice and an equal right to influence decisions? Or backward, allowing wealthy campaign donors to use huge amounts of money to silence the majority and determine our future?
THE GREAT DEBATE
One year after the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, Democracy Matter's sister organization, Public Campaign, hosted a forum that brought together leading advocates on both sides of the campaign finance spectrum. The discussion, held in the DC Capitol Visitor's Center, was well attended by the media, Congressional staffers and the public. ABC News Political Director Amy Walter moderated the forum.
Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig of "Change Congress" squared off with Michael Boos, vice president and general counsel for Citizens United. Boos strongly supported the Court's decision and in addition argued that all campaign contribution and reporting limits should be eased. Lessig, in contrast, not only pointed out the decision's flaws but also noted that a critical issue was "whether the people perceive the government as responsive to the voters, rather than the funders. That’s the corruption.” Discussant Spencer Overton, Law Professor at George Washington University, echoed Lessig's argument and declared that today's high contribution limits lead campaigns to focus on a tiny fraction of the public -- campaign contributors -- and to neglect the most important aspect of democracy: "reaching out to the people as a whole.”
Lessig on Citizens United.
CALLING OUT THE KOCH BROTHERS
For four days at the end of last month, Charles and David Koch — America’s richest brothers and underwriters of the Tea Party and other right-wing causes — convened a group of influential Republican donors to develop their plan of attack for the 2012 elections. When the Kochs and their friends arrived at Rancho Mirage, they were greeted by protesters from a coalition of organizations brought together by Democracy Matters sister organization, Common Cause. The protest event emphasized that our government and our democracy have been hijacked by rich political donors.
Mary Boyle of Common Cause stated that "an elite few like the Kochs are taking tighter control of our government by tapping vast corporate profits to influence public policy.” In another related action, Common Cause called on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether two Supreme Court justices had a conflict of interest in a legal case involving corporate campaign donations because they (Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas) had attended previous Koch events.
NEW YORK PUBLIC FINANCING
Exciting news from New York for public financing advocates. Governor Andrew Cuomo has put public financing at the top for ethics reform in Albany. In his January State of the State address Cuomo declared:
“In order to restore trust and accountability in government, we must reform the very foundation of democracy - the ballot box. The state’s finance laws fail to prevent the dominance of wealthy contributors and special interests. Fundamental campaign finance reform must include a system of public financing of election campaigns.”
Democracy Matters chapters throughout the state are mobilizing with coalition partners Citizen Action of NY, Common Cause, NYPIRG and others to convince the legislature that it's time for real reform. And we have a real chance in New York -- not only because of the horrific political money scandals that regularly inundate Albany, but also because New York City's successful decades-old public financing system is a proven model of citizen empowerment. Join us in the fight to make New York the next state to give democracy back to its citizens.
Read the transcript.
FACTS YOU CAN USE: Guns, Money, and Politics
Unfortunately for the victims of January’s shooting in Arizona and countless others, gun control has few advocates in the Congress. Despite loud protestations of concern, most members of Congress have been eerily quiet when it comes to proposing stricter gun laws – even on semi-automatics like that used in the shootings last month.
When we follow the money – as on most issues – we gain insight into this shameful silence. Gun rights advocates spend millions of dollars each election cycle -- in the form of independent expenditures, direct contributions to campaigns, and lobbying to prevent any change in the laws affecting gun ownership, sale, and use.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, gun rights advocates gave parties and candidates 41 times more money than their gun control opponents in the 2008 election cycle ($2.4 million versus $57,900). And gun rights advocates also spent 34 times more on lobbying than did gun control advocates ($3.9 million versus $115,000). The largest gun rights organization, The National Rifle Association, alone contributed $1.14 million to federal campaigns in the 2010 election cycle, while in the 2008 cycle the organization spent $17.9 million on independent expenditures – ads and communications explicitly supporting or opposing candidates. Of these independent expenditures, 99% supported Republican candidates.
To honor our 2011 DMers we list 10 DM chapters in each E-News.
Wake Forest University...Wesleyan University...West Virginia University...William Patterson University...Bloomsburg University...Boise State University...Boston University...Brown University...Bryn Mawr College...Colgate University...(to be continued)
More Campus Chapters.