Voting essential to our democracy

Real reform, such as the Fair and Clean Elections bill, is possible through elections.

In the 2000 election, less than 18 percent of 18-to 24-year-olds voted. The decline from 1972, when 50 percent of the same age group voted, is enormous. But as a young person I understand the eroding faith in our country’s political system that keeps so many in my generation away from the polls. Politicians (who now raise eight times as much money for campaigns than they did in 1972) have become beholden to their contributors – not the representatives of average Americans like my peers and me. We would like to contribute more to our public life – but frankly we doubt it’s worth our time and energy.

That said, boycotting a clogged system will not unclog it. We as young people have the duty and the energy to push for bold, smart solutions that will give us a reason to have faith. If the problem is that government will not listen to us – with tuition out of control, rent sky-high and health insurance elusive – because our representatives are busy listening to the interests of campaign contributors, then let’s make excessive campaign contributions a thing of the past. When the average U.S. senator spends between one-third and one-half of his or her time in office fund raising – time that could be used to prevent terrorism or actually read the Patriot Act – how can we afford to sit idly by?

I’m not talking about “campaign finance reform”; I’m talking about treating elections as a public good – and funding campaigns with public money. No strings attached.

In his last term, the late Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone introduced a Clean Money, Clean Elections bill. Such a system provides public money for federal canddates who prove their viability, refuse private donations and agree to spending limits. This system is working at the state level in Maine and Arizona, where it enjoys strong bipartisan support.

Nearly one-half of Minnesota state senators and one-third of Minnesota state representatives have expressed support for our own version of the system, the Fair and Clean Elections bill. I believe our representatives would love to kiss the money-chase goodbye by enacting the bill. They would love to get back to old-fashioned campaigns, where talking with people is more valuable than dialing for dollars. But the truth is that more of them will not vote for the bill without knowing they are supported by their constituents. It will take the votes of young people, and our voice, to get the bill enacted in Minnesota.

If you’re still not convinced, I’ll give you some direct reasons why you should care. At many state universities, governors appoint major campaign contributors, not education policy experts, as regents and to the boards of trustees. For instance, California’s former Gov. Gray Davis’ first three picks for the state’s Board of Regents together contributed $500,000 to his campaign. In 1998, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, proposed cutting the insurance fees students pay to secure loans by 25 percent. The proposal was rejected. Instead, encouraged by the $43.7 million the banking industry pumped into Congress since 1997, Congress passed a $1 billion banking subsidy.

Send a message that you want real change in how we fund election campaigns. Vote! Because if we – the hope, the idealists, the youthful energy – don’t stand up to this defunct system and demand real change, who will?

Andrew Scott is the midwest field organizer for Democracy Matters and welcomes comments at [email protected]