Every electoral campaign is accompanied by inevitable bouts with finance reform. The issue of soft money has plagued presidential elections, the current race for mayor of Philadelphia and the largely publicized Arnold Schwarzenegger campaign in California. As long as politicians are among the monetary elite, there won’t be much democratic justice for voters in the near future.
But students at Temple University can take a stand against social injustices within the collegiate community. Democracy Matters, a newer club on campus, is part of a national organization started in 2001 to advocate awareness of how political finance reform affects the voting decisions of college students.
Allison Dodwell, a senior and president of the organization, has been pushing for greater recognition of Temple’s chapter since she assumed the position this semester.
“So many students don’t even go to the polls,” Dodwell said. “They figure with the important agendas of money backing corporations, what they support won’t even matter.”
Raising student participation was the motivation behind starting the organization in the first place.
Adonal Foyle, NBA player and Democracy Matters founder, started the group in 2001. “I started Democracy Matters to help students fight for progressive change by standing up to big money interests corrupting our democracy,” Foyle said on the organization’s Web site.
Following Foyle’s original goals, Democracy Matters deals with the issues of private money in politics and other pro-democracy reforms.
“Democracy Matters not only exists to bring democracy into the classroom or campus, but also to bring awareness to collegiate voters,” Dodwell said. “The amount of people that don’t fully comprehend the political reform that our country needs is very sizable.”
Soft money is financial political donations that avoid federal regulations or limits. Donating to a party organization rather than to a particular candidate or campaign is an example of soft money donation. This has been a conflicting issue since the 1970s.
In 1971, Congress passed the Federal Election Campaign Act. The act was later amended in 1974 and 1976. It sets limits on contributions, restricts financing of presidential campaigns and established the Federal Election Commission.
Despite hopes for constrained expenditures involving political parties, the FECA’s initial purpose was eradicated by the case Buckley v. Valeo in 1976. Deeming the FECA a violation of the First Amendment, the Supreme Court allowed candidates to accept contributions from individuals.
Often, public confidence in politicians is undermined by the idea that personal wealth wins elections. “This is exactly what is keeping students from trusting their votes to make a difference,” Dodwell said.
Democracy Matters will begin addressing finance campaign reform and similar issues as this semester continues. Speakers scheduled for November include Joan Mandle, who is from the original branch at Colgate University. She will speak on the accomplishments and goals of Democracy Matters.
“We need to get the message out and motivate interested groups,” Dodwell said. “With the positive community activism inspired by Democracy Matters, Temple’s socially conscientious student body can easily take an important roll in the process of democracy.”
For more information on Temple’s Democracy Matters, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deidre Bird-Kelly can be reached at email@example.com.