Citizens’ call for campaign funding reform
While many voters accept the flaws with our election system related to fund-raising rules and regulations as politics as usual, many Indiana residents are beginning to question not only the inherent corruption in our current system, but viable means of reform as well.
And while the cynical might believe that the campaign system is too corrupt to ever be reformed, Doris “Granny D” Haddock, the 97-year-old campaign finance reform activist, appeared in Indianapolis this past weekend as proof that change is possible.
Haddock was the keynote speaker and inspiration for attendees of the Citizens’ Summit to Change Campaign Funding held Saturday at the University of Indianapolis. At the age of 90, Granny D walked across the country in support of the McCain-Feingold bill to reform the role of money in federal campaigns. The bill passed in 2002, the year after Granny D completed her 13-month trek.
According to the elderly activist, “The balance in your bank account should not be the measure of your value to your community.” Haddock, like those who came to hear her speak, believes the high cost of campaigns frequently prevents ordinary citizens of modest means from serving their communities as elected officials and, as a result, creates an inherently un-democratic election process.
The Indiana Alliance for Democracy was the lead organizer of the one-day event that featured panels, films and workshops exploring campaign funding problems and solutions on the University of Indianapolis campus.
Representatives from advocacy groups including the NAACP, Citizens Action Coalition and AFSCME illustrated how their issues and their supporters are put at a disadvantage in the political process because they can’t muster the money that often provides access to legislators.
While many elected officials were invited to attend and participate in the summit, many declined, telling organizers they were too busy campaigning for the upcoming election. State Rep. David Orentlicher (D-Indianapolis), state Sen. Brent Waltz (R-Greenwood) and Indianapolis City-County Council Vice President Joanne Sanders (D) did take part in a panel focused on effective means of communicating with legislators about election reform and campaign funding issues.
Representatives from citizens’ grass-roots organizations in Arizona and Maine, states that have instituted public financing of state elections, spoke to the benefits of this voluntary system, most strikingly the fact that legislators are free to vote in the public interest, rather than the interest of those who keep their campaigns financed, and citizens are empowered and involved in the electoral process.
Organizers and participants hope to use the Citizens’ Summit as a springboard for seeking to reform Indiana’s campaign finance system and election laws.
As panelist Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne, noted, “Indiana’s campaign finance laws are so loose that candidates and officials have no need to try to circumvent them.” Only labor organizations and corporations — excluding partnerships and limited liability corporations — are subject to donation limits, and local election boards often don’t have the resources to pursue the transgressions that are brought to their attention.
UIndy will again play host to the next step in looking at the current state of elections in Indiana and considering possible action to take to get to clean elections when the newly formed coalition and interested citizens meet Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. in room 013 of Schwitzer Student Center on the UIndy campus at 1400 E. Hanna Ave. in Indianapolis.
Holding power accountable
The dominating influence of wealthy special interests in the funding of campaigns has, in many cases, eroded public trust in our political system and discouraged political participation.
Common Cause, a non-partisan citizens’ group, is working for campaign finance reforms across the U.S., including Indiana, that they hope will bring government back to the people by reducing the influence of wealthy special interests, expanding public funding of campaigns and encouraging campaigns to seek funding from a broader base of small contributors.
For more information on Common Cause, go to www.commoncause.org.