The Hill News (St. Lawrence University)
December 8, 2010
By Christopher Beaulieu
The numbers are coming in, and it is estimated that there was a 30-percent increase in spending by political campaigns between the 2006 and 2010 midterm elections, while voter participation was relatively low. What has influenced this spike in spending?
“People are essentially buying the elections,” said Dr. Joan Mandle, Executive Director of Democracy Matters, a nationwide non-profit organization dedicated to promoting public financing in elections. “Money has enormous influence on what happens in Washington and the state capitals.”
Mandle distributed a handout that showed different statistics involving campaign donations. She explained that incumbent Senators spent an average of over 10 times that of their challengers. House incumbents spent nearly six times as much as their opponents. Also, Mandle pointed out that big corporations donated large percentages of campaign contributions.
The sectors that gave the most money to campaigns were finance, insurance and real estate, which contributed a combined total of $216,206,070 according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Total business contributions across all sectors came to over $1 trillion in the 2010 midterm elections.
In addition, the United States Supreme Court overturned a regulation limiting the amount of money corporations are allowed to donate in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee ruling this past January. Mandle noted, “They’re allowing corporations to use funds to influence election campaigns.” She also cited a study done by ABC and the Washington Post shortly after the decision was handed down, which found that some 80 percent of Americans polled disapproved of the ruling.
Event coordinator and President of the St. Lawrence chapter of Democracy Matters Colin Tessier-Kay added, “I think the Citizens United decision is unfair to individual citizens hoping to contribute to American politics and political campaigns.” He noted that there seems to be trend of people “tuning out” when politics are mentioned.
Mandle mentioned that there are currently six states that have public financing laws in place including Maine, Arizona, North Carolina and Connecticut. She also noted that New York Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo has expressed support for similar legislation for New York State.
Mandle continued, “We have an enormous distrust of government.” She noted that only 36 percent of registered voters participated in the 2010 midterms, and the youth voters (ages 18 to 29) had just a 20 percent turnout rate. Mandle attributed this to a sense of disillusionment among voters, as well as a lack of providing ways to vote on college campuses. She also noted that the Tea Party movement has been gaining momentum largely due to this disenchantment, which she said is “a very strange situation in a democracy.”
Tessier-Kay stated, “I was appalled at the statistics when I first saw them, and it was one of the motivating factors in my decision to bring back Democracy Matters here at SLU.” He explained that the organization existed at St. Lawrence in the past, but fell into a period of dormancy. He invited Mandle to campus in order to inform the SLU community and get students more involved in politics.
Tessier-Kay believes it is important for young voters to get involved in politics, and that many people are turned off by the subject of politics due to Capitol Hill seeming out of touch but don’t realize how much of an influence government has on their daily lives and how they can in turn influence government. He continued: “We have more power and influence than we know and it’s time to use it. To quote Gandhi, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’”
Mandle echoed this sentiment. She said: “Everything that people care about – clean water, getting jobs, student loans – needs to be represented. If the government isn’t listening to the people, it’s not a good democracy.” Both Mandle and Tessier-Kay added that anger and apathy can potentially be dangerous to democracy. As for public financing for elections, Mandle is hopeful that someday elections will be more equal, and that government officials will be more accountable to their constituents.