As this week’s Middletown municipal elections spark debate about voter rights, and Occupy Wall Street protesters across the nation call for limits on corporate power, the need for electoral reform becomes increasingly apparent. Dissatisfied citizens are uniting around a desire for increased political accountability, the removal of big money from politics, and a return to popular sovereignty. The Occupy movement has effectively raised awareness and encouraged support for these demands, but the time has come to focus our efforts and utilize existing organizations and mechanisms to enact change.
As President of the Wesleyan Chapter of Democracy Matters, I propose that we channel the energy of the Occupy movement into the pursuit of campaign finance reform. This is a tangible goal that would help solve many of the problems of corruption and inappropriate corporate influence within our political system.
Clean and fair elections offer an alternative to the current methods of campaign finance and returns to a government that is by the people and for the people. A system of publicly funded elections would encourage politicians to appeal to average citizens whose political voice might otherwise be drowned out by donations from a rich minority. Rather than allowing officials to seek large campaign donations from extremely wealthy individuals or from large corporations, the reformed system would require politicians to seek broader constituent support.
Politicians who demonstrate a certain level of support and agree to operate within such a system would limit donations received from special interests in exchange for additional government funding for their campaign. This allows politicians to truly represent their constituency as a whole, instead of the select few who can afford to fund their election. Once in office, representatives will not be obligated to cater to special interests or corporations that have the ability to offer significant campaign donations.
Electoral reform would loosen the grip that corporations currently have on public officials due to the regrettable importance of money in campaigns. Politicians could truly hold corporations accountable for their actions without the fear of losing their means of re-election. The demands of the average citizen would hold actual political weight, and it would be in the interest of representatives to pay attention to these demands, regardless of the size of the citizen’s wallet.
The removal of big money from politics increases the influence of citizens and represents a return to popular sovereignty. Our current system is tainted by the corrupt influence of corporations who are immune from political consequences because public officials are dependent on their campaign donations. If citizens want to exercise a true voice in elections and policy making, they first need to destroy this roadblock to democracy.
The recent efforts to fight for the right of Wesleyan students to vote in Middletown represents a commitment to political accountability and a desire to have an impact on local governance. These aspirations would be aided by campaign finance reform, which allows true equality in the voting process regardless of individual wealth. If the wealthy few continue to be allowed a disproportionate amount of influence within the government, then voter registration drives and other forms of civic engagement may ultimately be irrelevant in our political reality.
Important steps have been taken in the past few months to further political engagement and raise awareness about wealth inequality and corporate influence. However, in order for real shifts in power to occur, changes must be made within the political system with regards to how we elect our officials. Representatives must truly be made accountable to the people through the public financing of elections.
The passion for change clearly exists among the American people and it is time to progress from a vocalization of this passion to tangible objectives. The goal of a government truly beholden to citizens is well within reach, especially if we utilize the resources of organizations like Democracy Matters to educate others and advocate for reform.