February 8, 2002

'Democracy Matters' Lecture Series Begins

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A crowd of nearly 50 students gathered in the McGraw Hall auditorium yesterday afternoon to listen to Colgate Professor Jay Mandle, the co-founder of Democracy Matters, deliver a speech entitled, “How Private Money in Politics Hurts the Economy.”

Democracy Matters is a non-partisan national organization focused on campaign finance reform.

Mandle talked on the intermingling of economics and politics which creates a system that he thought of as corrupt and unfair.

“Market behavior is not appropriate for all parts of society,” Mandle said.

“A market system is governed by greed, which is an effective way to allocate resources but all of society should not be governed by greed.”

To counter the influence of private money in politics, Mandle advised the separation of the economy from public policy.

“We need a social contract where we appreciate the market but also keep it contained,” Mandle said. “Because the economic side influences the political side, the terms become corrupted and the majority of people do not get what they want.”

Mandle also explained his view that large campaign contributions stifle the political system and create legislation that does not reflect the views of all people equally.

“The wealthy disproportionately affect politics and this shows up in public policies that are favorable to them, rather than to the majority,” Mandle said.

Mandle considered the advent of nationwide publicly-funded elections the goal of Democracy Matters.

“What we know is that if we have campaign finance reform, we will have a fair process in elections,” explained Mandle.

He also cautioned, “We don’t know what the outcome will be but I am willing to believe in a political process that is fair but open-ended. The limit of our politics is process not outcome.”

The views of Mandle and Democracy Matters are not without their dissenters on the Cornell campus.

“The way I see campaign finance reform is a violation of free speech,” said Ray Beninato ’03, president of the conservative weekly The Cornell Review, said after the meeting.

He added, “By putting limits on spending it’s like saying you can’t voice your opinion on who you want in office.”

The members of Democracy Matters countered that “campaign finance reform is not unconstitutional by any means because it is an option, not a mandate,” Warshaw said.

He explained that, “we see elections as a public good, just as health care, national defense and education are public goods because elections affect everyone. It doesn’t make sense for a good that impacts everyone to be influenced by a wealthy few.”

Archived article by Leigh McMullan