Recent social movements like Occupy Wall Street and other unsatisfied groups in the United States have brought attention to the feeling of marginalization of average American citizens.
In our society, for better or for worse, money is power and inequality of wealth is felt not just economically but politically. Democracy Matters and other groups throughout the country, however, believe that solutions to these issues are possible through simple legislative means.
First, it is important to note the depth of these problems. Many of our nation’s policies are increasingly slanted toward enriching corporations, often at the expense of the people. Due to a combination of laws and legislation, corporations are now able to spend nearly unlimited sums independently to support or oppose candidates for office. Essentially, corporations hold the power to completely sway an election outcome.
Since politicians’ successes now rely upon the donations of a select group of people, politicians cater to the individual wishes of this group. Herein lies the corporate crisis – a society in which the government functions in the interest of the richest donor rather than in the interests of the population at large. This has in turn caused many of our society’s fundamental aspects – like our economy, education and environment – to suffer substantial blows in the name of larger profit margins.
Just one of the many examples we can see in Geneseo is Geneseo Central School District’s loss of over $1 million in support from New York State over the last three years, forcing program cuts, teacher cuts and a less valuable education. While our communities suffer, corporations are bending, weaving and creating legislation to increase profits at the citizen’s expense.
So that’s the depressing side of things, but did you know that there’s actually an alternative popping up in our state? It’s called “Fair Elections Now,” and we can do this in New York through a voluntary system of public financing of elections.
Instead of candidates running for office by raising large contributions from corporate donors, Fair Elections would allow state candidates to run for office with small donations from people in their community and receive public funds to run a competitive campaign.
This would encourage candidates to raise money from small donations and matching those small donations with public funding, which, if like Connecticut’s public funding system, would cost the taxpayer about $1 per year at tax time. That way, candidates wouldn’t have to rely on deep-pocket donors and CEO campaign contributors to run for office.
So this is all great, but would it really change anything? Certainly. Just imagine it: a New York in which our representatives can be free of the corporate dollar and serve the public’s interest rather than those of corporations. A New York where our wellbeing and livelihood still matter to our elected officials once they’re elected, not only during their campaigns.
This year, a bill will be introduced to the New York State Assembly that will call for Fair Elections for New York. It would be in all of our best interests to push this bill forward. Contact your representatives and talk to them about public financing. Let them know that this issue is important to their constituency and supporting it would help them get elected in November – they’ll listen to that.