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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Book of Matthew: Saving our democracy

Published: October 26, 2007
Section: Opinions

Ever wonder why Congress never seems to get anything done? Just follow the money trail. No, I dont mean bribery, thats far too risky for most politicians. Im talking about something thats perfectly legal, and has even become an accepted part of the political system. Im talking about private campaign donations.

Allow me to paint the dismal picture of politics as usual. Say its an election year, and a young politician is preparing to run for office. He knows that in order to keep up with his opponents, he will need an exorbitant sum of money that far surpasses his personal assets. So, he tries his hand at fundraising, but its not enough. His opponents are throwing money around like candy, buying up advertising wherever they can. Our young politician realizes that he needs to play their game. He turns his campaign away from ordinary voters, and towards large corporations, who have the ability to hand out hundreds of thousands of dollars without batting an eye. Now, say our young politician wins his election with the aid of the money he receives from these corporations. When it comes time to do his job, he isnt doing it alone. His corporate donors see him as an investment, and they want a decent payout. As his term progresses, he finds that he must follow the will of these corporations before the will of the people, or they will not support his reelection.

Who are we voting for? Do we really think that big businesses have the interests of ordinary Americans at heart? The very thought is laughable. It has become so difficult for our government to make desperately needed policy changes because big money is holding it back. How can our politicians reform health care, or reduce our dependence on oil, when pharmaceutical companies and oil companies have helped to put them in office? How can we clean up the environment and fight global warming when so many heavy-polluting corporations have such a large stake in our government? The simple answer is that we cant.

Luckily for us, many Americans have had enough. An effort to keep big business out of politics is currently underway in several states. Full public financing of elections, known as Clean Elections, are now law in Maine, Arizona, New Mexico, North Carolina, New Jersey, Vermont, and Connecticut. Under this new system, candidates have the option of qualifying for public funding, by collecting a certain amount of small donations from ordinary people (donations are usually $5). Once they have qualified, candidates may not accept donations from private donors. Think about that for a second. No private donations. This means that the only people these politicians have to respond to are ordinary people, the people that they are supposed to represent in the first place.

Clean Elections are a good start, but we still have a long way to go. We need to show public support for this effort so that the rest of the states and Washington D.C. will adopt the measure. Hopefully, one day our country will be back in our hands, and our leaders will be able to do the job that we elect them to do.