On Wednesday November 5th Democracy Matters partnered with the Eisenhower Institute and the Political Science department to co-host a panel on the issue of campaign finance. Featuring Ellen Weintraub, a commissioner of the Federal Elections Committee(FEC), and Professors Mott, Larson and Mullen, the panel discussed all issues involving money and its effect on public policy.
The panel started off with a brief introduction into the club Democracy Matters, describing its mission to engage students in conversation about the issues of money in government. Following this introduction, Mrs Weintraub explained the founding of the FEC, its current role in policy, and the implications of the Citizens United case. The current issue surrounding campaign finance involves wealthy donors, PAC’s and lobbying firms ability to influence policy. Following the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court ruled that limiting third party groups from funding policy campaigns violated first amendment rights. As a result, third parties financial capabilities have effectively drowned out the voice of average U.S citizens.
In addressing the government’s inability to change this system, sophomore Chase Wonders stated “ I found it interesting that the FEC’s original purpose has been decimated, not by party politics, but the schism of ideology that is currently affecting the country.” Furthermore, Mrs. Weintraub believes that it is this ideology combined with the courts inability to conceptually understand the process of campaign finance that is prohibiting changes to be made.
Concluding the lecture, Mrs. Weintraub and the other panelists opened the floor to questions from the audience. Professor Mott, a legal academic and Professor at Gettysburg College, questioned the Supreme Court’s approach in addressing the Citizens United case. According to Professor Mott, instead of portraying the case as a freedom of speech issue, the court could have instead interpreted the case as a violation of the freedom of the press. While unlikely changing the outcome, this interpretation would have negated the courts ability to rule on campaign finance. Concluding the questions portion of the panel, Mrs. Weintraub stressed the severity of the issue, stating “campaign finance is rooted so deeply in politics, that it effects almost every aspect of our lives without us even knowing it.”
As the panel came to a close, Democracy Matter’s co-chairman Nolan Lynch, stressed the importance of continuing the conversation regarding campaign finance. As stated by Nolan, “it is not the lawyers or the IRS that will be able to effectively solve this issue, it is up to the common voice of the people to go out and make an effective change.” With the issue receiving more exposure, it will be interesting to see if campaign finance will continue to crowd out the voices of the average citizen and corrode America’s democratic values.
NOW, a feminist organization founded in 1966, strives for women’s equality in all aspects of life through both education and litigation. This national organization educates masses on feminist issues through twitter, Facebook and their website, NOW.org. Through these outlets, NOW discusses relevant topics and launches events such as National Love Your Body Day (Gullickson). However, they also work to achieve political power by encouraging the progressive vote and providing funding to politicians who support NOW’s four key issues: economic equality, reproductive rights, voter suppression, and marriage equality.
The economic agenda for women is an especially important cause, as women are currently paid 78 cents for every dollar that men make, a figure that is only intensified with racial discrimination, such as that against Latinas and African-Americans. By encouraging the support of Democratic politicians who seek to raise the minimum wage, attain equal pay for equal work, and promote ideas such as paid family leave, NOW strives to achieve economic justice for women. Regarding reproductive rights, NOW supports affordable health care, access to women’s birth control, and the right to an abortion. Not only do these rights afford women proper autonomy over their bodies, but they provide economic justice, as women would not need pay large sums of money for these concerns. Furthermore, NOW strongly believes in the fundamental right to marriage for those in same-sex relationships. Attaining marriage equality is a key issue for feminists and a cause the organization seeks to promote in the upcoming midterm elections.
Due to the abundance of pertinent issues that are at stake, NOW also seeks to limit the recent voting restrictions, such as photo ID requirements, that tend to influence lower class, minority communities. According to Terry O’Neill, president of NOW, “Restrictions on early voting […] hurt minimum wage workers, two-thirds of whom are women, who usually can’t take time off to vote on Election Day.” (O’Neill). Similarly, many women who have recently been married or divorced are unable to vote because their drivers licenses and birth certificates do not match. As Republicans limit the amount of single women who are able to vote, it becomes easier for them to propose and implement legislation that is detrimental to women.
With the mid-term elections coming up this November, NOW is emphasizing the importance of women’s vote in order to achieve a majority in the Senate that is sympathetic to women’s rights. As Terry O’Neill indicated in the title of her most recent article on Huffingtonpost, “Women’s Votes Always Matter — But They Matter More In 2014” (O’Neill). Be sure to vote and encourage your friends and family to do the same, especially if they live in states like North Carolina, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Alaska. Moreover, the National Organization of Women is asking for donations and fundraising consistently throughout the year. To support their cause donate at: http://now.org/more-ways-to-give/
Gullickson, Caitlin. “What Does “love Your Body” Mean to You?” National Organization for Women. N.p., 21 Oct. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
O’Neill, Terry. “Women’s Votes Always Matter — But They Matter More In 2014.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 15 Oct. 2014. Web. 23 Oct. 2014.
With the 2014 midterm elections coming up, the political sphere is getting ready for a shift in congressional party dynamics. The Democratically controlled Senate is likely to turn Republican, and the United States seems to be focusing almost solely on the GOP’s forecasted gains. The current dynamics seem to suggest that the race is already over, despite still being weeks away.
The New York Times recently published an article detailing the actions the newly-Republican congress are planning on taking, suggesting their anticipation of success in the midterms. Similarly, Politico detailed the celebrations hosted by Magnum Entertainment Group, a rightward-leaning event planning firm located in Washington D.C., that are scheduled to occur on November 4th. Invitees included the Republican Governors Association, National Republican Congressional Committee, and Republican National Committee. Thus, discussion is undeniably focused away from the election itself, with the exception of specific tight races. The public now is increasingly set on the future of our political system with a Republican-controlled House and Senate. Will there continue to be such deadlock? Will federal regulation of fracking become banned? Will we see more spending cuts? What will be the fate of Obamacare?
While these are important questions, one factor of our political system remains overlooked: voter turnout. The public is quick to criticize platforms and legislation, but no one seems to discuss the fact that only around 40% of the eligible voting population shows up to the polls during midterm elections (see figure 1). Presidential years experience an increase up to around 60% of eligible voters, yet compared to other democratic nations this number is quite low. Many other democracies have compulsory voting polities, forcing citizens to become more engaged in their country’s political sphere. While the argument of whether to adopt compulsory voting is controversial, the mere idea raises a point: the country should take a larger interest in what happens in our nation’s capital.
Yet, despite the fact citizens should feel a civic responsibility to vote, almost half choose to abstain. This certainly skews opinions, because the 40-60% of registered voters casting a ballot on Election Day are not representative of the nation. Voter turnout is skewed by such factors like ethnicity, income, and education. Looking at the chart below (see figure 2), it is very apparent that income and voter turnout are correlated. Lower-income individuals do not vote for a variety of reasons, two of which being that they either do not believe they are informed enough or do not believe they have time to make it to the polls. Because Election Day falls on a non-holiday Tuesday, many low-income individuals do not have the flexibility in their schedule to physically go to the polls and wait in line. In addition, they often have fewer connections to candidates than higher-income individuals. Wealthier Americans are much more likely to participate in political activities than poorer individuals, with the exception of protests (see figure 3). Most prominently, the wealthy are much more likely to have political contacts and donate to campaigns, causing them to be more likely to prioritize voting come Election Day.
Similarly, ethnicity plays a role in voter turnout as well. Hispanic/Latino and Asian Americans experience significantly lower turnout rates than blacks and non-Hispanic whites (see figure 4). Particularly with the election of the United State’s first black president, there was a rise in the black vote, surpassing the white vote for the first time and following a steady climb in turnout since 1996. However, most other minorities still need to close the gap between themselves and white voters. While Hispanic/Latino voter turnout continues to grow in both presidential and midterm elections, it is overshadowed by the larger growth in the eligible population who chose not to vote. With poor representation of certain minorities, we see the interests of these groups receive even smaller attention. Our political system would be bettered by increased voter turnout because it equalizes voter participation and allows for a more accurate representation of our nation’s opinions. Rather than focusing on the outcome of a race that isn’t even over yet, the nation should shift its attention towards bettering the system in which chooses the men and women who represent us.
Charts and References
Figure 1: US voter turnout 1948-2012 (Fairvote 2012)
 Data from http://www.census.gov/cps/data/
Figure 2: 2010 US Voter Turnout by Income
Figure 3: Participation by Socioeconomic Status (Weeks 2014)
Figure 4: Voter Turnout by Ethnicity (Taylor and Lopez 2013)
Two EI employees pose for #EIPrideDay
The Eisenhower Institute Team gathered at the end of EI Pride Day for a group picture
With Congressional midterms now just weeks away it is likely that far fewer members of Congress will lose their seats that would normally be expected. With Congress’s approval rating at around 14%, the lowest before an election since 1974, this fact seems shocking. There are countless reasons why we are seeing so many members of Congress heading to easy re election. Factors like gerrymandering and a lack of engagement on the part of many Americans certainly play a role, but there is one new and dramatic shift in the way elections take place that must take a large share of the blame, and that is the prevalence of money in politics.
Each year the cost of elections increase and the amount of money that politicians need to raise increases to meet these demands. With the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision the floodgates were opened to a dramatic increase in the amount that could be spent on a campaign. In 2012 the average cost of a house seat was $1,500,000, and a total of almost 1 billion dollars were spent of house races. Both Democrats and Republicans have been unable to gain a decisive financial advantage, but the total amount spent on campaigns generally has been steadily rising.
While it is true that Republicans have benefited to a larger degree from the loosening of campaign finance regulation, sometimes receiving donations from groups like superpacs at a rate 10 times that of Democrats, Democrats have been increasingly successful getting money from smaller donors. Democrats have been able to average $100,000 more from smaller contributors than Republicans. With both sides benefiting from the status quo there is little hope that dramatic changes will be made to the campaign finance system.
That being said there has been a movement to try to remove the money that has permeated all aspects of elections and politics generally. Just last month the senate voted on a constitutional amendment that was designed to limit money in politics. The amendment was considered to be a long shot, and as many expected, it failed. This is despite the fact that recent polling shows a majority of Americans would be in favor of such an amendment. So why has campaign finance reform not received significant attention and support? The answer is largely due the to fact that most Americans don’t find campaign finance important. In recent polls asking Americans what issues are most important to to them, campaign finance did not even rank. Politicians will not feel pressure vote with the opinions of their constituents unless they know that they will be held accountable.
Despite the lack of legislative action on this front many prominent figures have spoken out recently on this topic. Justice Ginsburg said that if she could reverse the Citizens United ruling she would, adding “I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be”. Although there still seems to be little movement on this issue, especially with the Federal Election Commission’s recent decision to further relax campaign finance rules. We live in a new world of campaign finance and it looks like we are just going to have to get used to it.
So what does this mean for the future of political campaigns? Well, we are undoubtedly in a political arms race, both sides are increasing their war chests but neither side can pull out on top. Thanks to the stalemate cost of running a successful political campaign keeps increasing and is unlikely to plateau or decrease in the foreseeable future. This is likely to have profound ramifications. First, we are likely to see a dramatic decrease in the number and quality of political challengers. Those who have limited funds, will be unable to compete with incumbents who have millions of dollars to spend, this is especially true in high cost media markets. We will also see the growing influence of hidden special interests, who are increasingly spending money in political campaigns.
Unless substantial changes are made to the way campaigns are financed, we are likely to see more entrenched Congressmen, who have deeper pockets and are increasingly indebted to the special interest rest that fund their campaigns. While this is not something most Americans want, it looks like, at least for now it is a reality we will have to live with.
Why Politics is getting in the way of a Trans-Pacific Partnership
Over the past several months, talk of a Trans-Pacific free trade agreement has become increasingly pessimistic, with most policy-analysts and government officials referring to the negotiations as “ambitious,” and the agreement itself as a “lofty ideal.” The rise in U.S. exports since the end of the recession in 2009 has aided our country’s economic recovery tremendously.
Over the past five years, exports have accounted for one-third of U.S. economic growth. A 57 percent rise in exports to our free trade partners over that same period helped our country reach a record high $2.3 trillion in export goods and services. In the past several years, the Obama administration has been working on two Pacific trade agreements: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The countries included in these agreements produce two-thirds of the world’s GDP and half of global trade. A free trade agreement will likely facilitate even more growth in exports for the U.S. and world economy.
In June, President Barack Obama said he would have a draft for the free trade plan ready by this November to present to the leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership countries. In a follow-up article for the Huffington Post in August, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel reaffirmed that the President’s economic team would “redouble” efforts to conclude a multi-national partnership at the upcoming G-20 Meeting in Australia this November, which will achieve “tangible outcomes that create jobs and strong, sustainable and balanced global growth.” With November fast approaching, government officials of the other twelve countries are calling for policy transparency from the U.S., fearing their trade aspirations will not be reflected in the policy. Likewise, Congress has become increasingly skeptical of the feasibility and benefits of knocking down trade barriers in the midst of an economic recovery. They worry domestic industries will be competed out of the market if, for instance, tariffs and quotas on sugar from Australia, and textiles from Vietnam are removed.
Politicians hesitate to open up barriers to trade and risk exposing Americans to competition with cheaper foreign labor. Despite our acknowledgement of the logic behind David Ricardo’s principle of comparative advantage in trade, which has delineated liberal economic policy debates since it was first formulated in 1817, policy-makers today fear “carve-outs” in the terms of a TPP trade agreement will give Asian markets an unfair advantage. This is not the first time a lack of political support has threatened to put a stop to free trade agreements between the U.S. and other countries. When NAFTA legislation made it through the House of Representatives in 1993, it was approved by a polarized margin of just 34 votes. The NAFTA vote was also non-partisan, and was passed by a coalition of 132 Republicans and 102 Democrats opposing 156 Democrats, 43 Republicans and 1 independent. From the date of NAFTA legislation approval to 1999, U.S. trade with neighboring countries Canada and Mexico was boosted by 86 percent. In Mexico for instance, automobile sector jobs have increased by upwards of 50% since 1994, and according to one source, their automakers produce approximately 3 million vehicles per year.
Critics maintain there are significant problems with NAFTA as a model for the 21st century, especially with regard to environmental protection policy and international competition amongst agricultural sectors. Yet despite these concerns, policy-makers are not considering NAFTA’s tangible results in discussions about what TPP’s effect on the U.S. and world economy will be. The evidence still indicates the first ten years after NAFTA was a “decade of success” with upwards of 30% growth for Canada and Mexico and 38% for the U.S.
Politicians hesitate to support TPP today for much the same reasons given in opposition to NAFTA. Politicians need to understand what they perceive to be a lofty ideal based on a Ricardian pipe dream has already worked before. Moreover, there are even more political and economic gains likely to be made by a TPP agreement with Asia, especially given our near- total trade parity with China.
Our “pivot” to Asia must not be misconstrued as purely militarily, and given Chuck Hagel and John Kerry’s plans to strengthen our military alliance with Australia and our presence in their sphere, a trade agreement to strengthen a U.S.-China political and economic alliance is even more urgent. The benefits certainly outweigh the costs of failing to complete a trade agreement with Asia. Despite the urgency, Congress is still slow to consider or even actively pursue a trade consensus with Asian countries like Japan, China, or Thailand. We need to get back on track and support policies that will make U.S. industries more competitive in the international marketplace. Regarding the completion of a TPP agreement, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman asserted in a speech given at a recent HSBC event, “It’s challenging, it’s difficult, but achieving it is absolutely critical to getting back on the path towards sustainable growth.” 
In this piece, I will not concentrate so much on the debate over the economic virtues and vices of these free trade policies, but the politics halting progress toward their completion. I ask both what Washington politicians’ concerns are, and more importantly, are their concerns genuine? In other words, is politics getting in the way?
Megan Zagorski ’16, Environmental Leadership
Climate change surrounds us, yet sometimes the over-saturation causes people to disregard the urgency with which we need to act. Some find it difficult to comprehend the severe impacts of temperatures one degree warmer or a sea level that is one inch higher. This past week, the People’s Climate March launched these issues into the international spot light accompanied by an article published by the Audubon Society, a much anticipated climate summit held at the United Nations addressed climate concerns, and CBS reported on the state of the loons in Minnesota.
Last Sunday, September 21st , saw the largest climate march in history as an estimated 400,000 marchers descended on New York City in a march designed to focus global attention on the issue of climate change and the upcoming UN summit that held Tuesday. Unlike former climate marches, this one was distinguished by the presence of “young, diverse communities” ready to have their voices heard in the global discourse (Kieffer). The defining characteristic of this march was the shared humanity of participants because climate change does not distinguish between race, ethnicity, language, or income level. A special section for those immediately impacted by climate change saw Filipinos marching alongside youth from the Brooklyn organization El Puente. Hoping for this symbolic unity to become concrete inside UN headquarters, these marchers have shown that cooperation is still a valid possibility, but we must act now while we still can, including everyone, young and old, in a solution.
That solution will take a variety of approaches, some of which were stated on Tuesday at UN headquarters during the climate summit. Called by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon an “unprecedented and important gathering,” he called for a “clear, shared vision” in working on the two main objectives of the meeting, which included cutting carbon emissions and mobilizing political will. A Mayor’s Compact signed by 200 mayors called for a 12.4 – 16.4 per cent reduction in annual emissions, and various other companies pledged to lower emissions. These promises are a giant step forward. However, in 2020 how many of these promises and goals will have been met, let alone in 2100? As the memory and spirit of cooperation fade, will these mayors and companies still have the political will to follow through? More needed than any number of promises, however persuasive they may seem, political willpower will allow us to follow through with the statements made this week. When your will weakens, it always helps to have a source of motivation to continue the fight.
One such motivational symbol can be found in the Common Loon, Gavia immer. Who is not moved by their haunting call or the majestic site of a loon gliding along a lake resplendent in its aptly named necklace and snowflake-patterned back? There is a reason the loon is a symbol of the American wilderness, however the loon is in imminent peril from climate change. And it is not the only one. A recent report by the Audubon Society shows that nearly half of America’s bird species will be negatively impacted by climate change, including other recognizable and beloved species like eagles and hummingbirds. As CBS reported, with rising temperatures, fish are dying and forcing loons farther north. While scientists are testing whether loons can adapt to warmer climates, testing has just begun. If enough people recognize the beauty we may lose and pressure their politicians, it may provide the necessary political will. Putting an image to the potential crisis makes a larger impact by bringing the issue closer to home. Species in our own backyard will soon be irreversibly impacted. Dare we not act?