Although former Colgate University professor Joan Mandle “cringes” when she mentions Jesse Ventura, he was elected governor through public campaign financing. Mandle is the executive director of Democracy Matters, an organization whose goal is to reform campaign finance.

Mandle came to campus Thursday, Oct. 24 for a meeting of UR’s SA recognized contingent of Democracy Matters. Thirteen UR students were present for the meeting.

There are thirty chapters of Democracy Matters on college campuses nationwide. “Any progressive issue needs young people supporting it energetically,” Mandle said. “Young people have more power than they think they do.”

Currently, 80 percent of all campaign contributions are donated by one quarter of one percent of the population, according to Mandle. These donors are most often wealthy, white male businessmen who expect political favors in exchange for donations.

As a result, several groups and their agendas are not represented. Often, the political goals of feminists, environmentalists, minorities, students, seniors, the working class and others go unheard, Mandle explained.

“Politicians spend too much time raising money instead of raising issues and governing. And politics affects everything in today’s society, like it or not,” Mandle said.

NBA player Adonal Foyle, founder and president of Democracy Matters, donates some of his $6 million annual salary “to help students fight for progressive change by standing up to big money.”

Foyle, Mandle and other Democracy Matters staff members have spoken at several high schools, universities, civic associations and at the New York Fair Elections Project Conference on Campaign Finance Reform.

Dr. Mandle, who taught sociology and anthropology at Colgate, now works full-time with Democracy Matters.

Erin Fraser is the president of UR’s chapter of Democracy Matters, whose membership is relatively low. “So far it’s been a bit rough. People tear down fliers consistently. However, we did pull off a voter registration and absentee ballot drive where we got a bunch of people registered to vote,” Fraser said of the organization’s presence on campus.

For the most part, students did not realize that UR had such an organization. “It sounds like something they say on CNN, but I don’t know what they do on campus. I haven’t even heard of it,” freshman Matthew Morgan said.

There were, however, a few who knew about Democracy Matters. “The way they finance elections is underhanded and I’m not even sure that it’s truly democratic,” said senior Jun Abraham.

“I think that most people would agree that candidates should be elected based on merit, not the size of their wallet. Conservatives and liberals alike should realize that the current system is wrong, and should speak out against it,” said senior Charlesa Ceres, who is a member of UR’s chapter of Democracy Matters .

Thursday night, Mandle offered students a few ways to maintain democracy. The first and probably most tangible goal is to encourage more people, especially young people, to vote. “Fifty percent of voters voted in the last presidential election and 32 percent vote in other elections. Only 12 to 17 percent of college-aged people vote,” Mandle said.

A far more challenging goal, Mandle said, is to implement public campaign finance throughout the United States. A few states already have programs in which candidates can use public funds to run for office. These funds are donated by the general public in $5 increments rather than in larger sums by wealthy individuals or companies. “This program would give more average citizens an opportunity to run for office,” Mandle said.

Former pro wrestler Jesse Ventura used public funding to be elected Governor of Minnesota in 1998 on the Reform Party ticket.

“In New York state, 99 percent of incumbents are re-elected,” Mandle said. Governor George Pataki has 13 times more campaign funds than New York State Comptroller Carl McCall has. McCall, a democrat, is running against Pataki for governor of New York state in the upcoming election.

Billionaire businessman Tom Golisano is running for New York State governor as an independent. Although he refuses campaign contributions from special interest groups, Newsday reported that Golisano is prepared to spend his own $75 million on this, his third run for governor.

“Only wealthy people run for office,” Mandle claims. “If private money continues to dominate American politics, the desires of the affluent will control legislation and the rest of us will be ignored.”

Mandle invited those present Thursday to a Democracy Matters conference with Adonal Foyle on the campus of SUNY Albany. To learn more, go to www.democracymatters.org.

Yunis can be reached at tyunis@campustimes.org.



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