September 11, 2003

Lowi Talks Reform With Cornell Club

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A large group of students, charged with a mission to change national elections through campaign finance reform, met yesterday in Rockefeller Hall.

The group, Democracy Matters, held its first meeting of the semester under the leadership of Zachary Hollander ’04, the group’s campus coordinator, and Danny Pearlstein ’05, the campus director. The main goal of Democracy Matters at Cornell is for Clean Money Campaign Reform legislation to pass in New York State.

Now in its third year in existence nationally and on Cornell’s campus, Democracy Matters is a fast-growing student political organization. It was founded by two professors at Colgate University and their adopted son, NBA basketball player Adonal Foyle of the Golden State Warriors. The group describes itself as a “nonpartisan, nonprofit, student-based organization concerned about political accountability and the corrupting influence of private money in American government. … We focus on the process of elections, not the outcome.”

Prof. Theodore J. Lowi, the John L. Senior Professor of American Institutions, and Prof. Walter Mebane, government, spoke to the group about the merits of democracy. Mebane is also the group’s faculty advisor.

Lowi began his statements by listing several different forms of democracy that have existed over time, such as mass democracy, pluralism, direct democracy, and Town Hall “true” direct democracy. Lowi then emphasized the importance of political parties in politics, saying that partisan politics help organize voting power for the electorate. Lowi closed his remarks by suggesting that Democracy Matters expand its goal of changing elections to include eradicating single member representation in districts.

“To me, the one biggest evil isn’t campaign finance reform, not that money isn’t a problem, but democracy costs a lot of money. The biggest thing we haven’t addressed is single member representation in a district. It is the biggest infringement on democracy,” Lowi said.

After the meeting, students commented on Lowi’s remarks. Hollander said, “Lowi is great because he always comes to our events and challenges us. He’s right, it is not about being nonpartisan, it’s about working towards goals that help people of all interests, that’s why it is about process and not outcomes.”

As the faculty advisor to Democracy Matters, Mebane followed Lowi’s remarks by talking briefly about election reform. “You can’t just take for granted that voting is going to happen. The 2000 Presidential election is an example of that,” Mebane said. He then added that the Supreme Court heard arguments for Campaign Finance Reform on Monday.

Hollander explained that when he first looked into political groups at Cornell, he was drawn to Democracy Matters. “I’d made rounds to a lot of political organizations on campus and saw two things lacking. One, it was a lot of political talk and not enough action; a forum of ideas of people that were like-minded. The other thing I didn’t see was tradition. When I spoke to the leaders of Democracy Matters, they had a desire to see action even after they left Cornell,” he said.

The organization now has 55 chapters established at universities and colleges across America. At Cornell, Democracy Matters is funded through the SAFC and is given materials such as banners and buttons from the national organization. The group counts approximately 35 active members and 350 people affiliated with the organization. It also plans to boost faculty involvement in its meetings.

Archived article by Erica Temel