The University became a rendezvous point for some of Connecticut’s leading organizations and public officials on Thursday, Oct. 15. Connecticut Public Interest Research Groups (ConnPIRG) and Common Cause Connecticut were both in attendance, as well as Jared Milfred of New Haven’s Democracy Fund, State Senators Gary Winfield and Paul Doyle, local residents, and University Students. This gathering was organized to discuss an issue that affects all citizens of the United States: campaign finance reform.
The roundtable was on the same day as the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) filing deadline for presidential candidates’ fundraising. The discussion lasted over an hour, and panelists explained the problems of big money in our political system and how it harms representation in our political process, as well as what can be done about it.
“There are solutions on the national and local level that give both candidates and voters the ability to not be under the thumb of those spending the most,” said ConnPIRG Organizer Meghan Hassett.
Cheri Quickmire of Common Cause Connecticut spoke to the importance of democracy.
“We’re reminded today of how a handful of incredibly wealthy donors dominate our democracy,” she said. “But we can take concrete steps to put everyday citizens back in charge of our elections. We can amplify the voices of small donors in Connecticut as well as in Middletown.”
Students in attendance spoke about the importance of equal representation in democracy, many of them stating that, as students who are unable to afford large donations, it’s frustrating to try to have their voices heard by political representatives.
Hassett further noted that this conversation may not be on the front of everyone’s minds. However, she mentioned the benefits of campaign finance reform.
“Since 2010, 16 states and over 600 localities have gone on record calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn ‘Citizens United’ and allow Congress to place common sense limits on campaign cash,” Hassett said. “This reform is necessary to restricting the obscene amount of big money in politics, but the panel called for more immediate solutions as well.
According to Hassett, a bill for federal-level elections, called the Government By the People Act, already has over 150 cosponsors, including Connecticut Representatives DeLauro and Larson. This bill would enable more Americans to engage in politics via tax credits for small donations. This small-donor empowerment program would also allow candidates who rely on small donors. This could also be appealing to voters, as the attention does not need to be solely focused on megadonors and superPACs to run viable campaigns.
The panel was quick to note that grassroots movements such as those made by local organizations are the first step to getting big money out of politics. Programs in Los Angeles, New York, New Haven, and in other Connecticut towns help empower the everyday voter.
According to Hassett, public financing of campaigns would mean that the candidates who can fundraise and campaign successfully will be the ones most in touch with their voters, which she believes is exactly how a representative democracy should function. This program would give more incentives to regular people to donate, and it gives politicians the incentive to reach out to neighborhoods that would normally not receive representation.
“Our democracy works best when constituents’ voices aren’t drowned out by superPACs and corporations,” Hassett said. “We can implement solutions right here in Middletown that would blunt the impact of big money. Small donor empowerment would be a huge step forward in empowering Americans and strengthening our political process, and we can start locally.”