April 23, 2004

Cornell Students Lobby for Reform

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Fifteen members of the Cornell chapter of Democracy Matters took a trip to Albany, N.Y. to lobby for campaign finance reform on Tuesday. Altogether, they talked to over 35 legislators in the New York State Senate and Assembly about the Ortiz-Paterson Clean Money and Clean Elections Bill for the chapter’s 3rd annual Lobby Day.

“What we’re lobbying for is clean elections,” said Laura Taylor ’07 a Democracy Matters member.

According to Taylor, under the bill, electoral candidates would have to collect a pre-set number of $5 contributions to show an established constituency base. The candidate would then receive approximately $100,000 from the government to fund their campaign while agreeing to campaign spending and contribution limits. Maine and Arizona have already set up similar systems in an attempt to limit the influence of private individuals who give large contributions to campaigns.

Members of Democracy Matters began planning for Lobby Day over two months ago. The chairs of the state reform committee set up appointments for the lobbiers to meet with senators and assemblypersons on April 20. Over the past three weeks the group learned about the details of the Ortiz-Paterson bill and campaign finance reform issues.

Other actions taken by Democracy Matters include a meeting with Prof. Stephen P. Johnson, assistant vice president for government & community relations, to discuss what to expect in Albany and how to lobby.

“The more you talk about it, the more you hear it, the more confident you are to lobby it, explain it and answer questions about it,” said Josh Rubin ’06, another member of Democracy Matters.

According to Rubin, since the Ortiz-Paterson bill was first introduced in the 2003 Jan. through June session of the assembly, 60 co-sponsors have signed onto the bill. To pass it will need 78 signatures, the majority plus one.

For some members, this was their first lobbying experience. Lydia Gilbert ’05 received a range of responses during her first trip to Albany. She talked with one assemblyperson who knew very little about the Ortiz-Paterson bill, an aide who hated it, a legislator who supported the bill and another aide who would not take them seriously and “thought we were cute.”

Several other members had attended Lobby Day for the past three years. Andre Graddo grad explained how in his first year the legislators hardly knew anything about the campaign finance reform issue but were excited that young people were in Albany participating in politics. Now in his third year, he found the legislators knew who they were and what the issues were about.

“Its amazing how much people have changed in three years,” said Graddo.

Genevieve Quist ’05, a member of Democracy Matters, talked to assembly member Carmen E. Arroyo, representative of the Bronx. According to Quist, Arroyo had to spend her life savings to pay for her campaign against a much wealthier challenger.

“She seemed like the person we’re really trying to reach,” said Quist, “It seemed like she was waiting for someone to ask her to sign on.”

The Cornell chapter joined with the St. Lawrence, Colgate and Vassar chapters of Democracy Matters and another lobby group, Citizen Action. In total, around 25 people participated in Lobby Day and Cornell brought more people than any other organization. The Cornell students left Ithaca early Tuesday morning and arrived in Albany around 9:30 a.m. to begin preparations for the day. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the groups met with numerous legislators in 15 to 30 minute sessions.

Overall, the members of Democracy Matters said they came back with positive feelings about the day.

“A lot of people acknowledged the fact that [campaign finance reform] is an inevitability,” said member Zack Hollander ’04. “It makes our mission clear to keep educating the assemblymen and women … I have never felt so upbeat about something getting passed.”

Archived article by Casey Holmes
Sun Staff Writer