Democracy Matters is a non-profit, non-partisan grassroots student political organization that is dedicated to deepening democracy. Democracy Matters advocates for public financing of election campaigns and other pro-democracy reforms in order to get big private and corporate money out of elections and people back in. On-campus student chapters do outreach for education and mobilization.
The organization was founded in 2001 by former 13-year veteran NBA player and Colgate alumnus Adonal Foyle, with the assistance of his adoptive parents Jay Mandle (professor of economics at Colgate) and Joan Mandle (associate professor of sociology. anthropology and women's studies at Colgate).
The NBA recognized Foyle for his commitment to democracy with nationally televised presentations of their “Community Assist Award.” The Greenlining Institute presented him with their prestigious Change Agent Award for his commitment to campaign finance reform. And he received the City of San Francisco’s Sports Hero Award as well as many other awards and commendations for his work increasing the civic engagement of young people.
Foyle’s commitment to Democracy Matters has also been widely hailed in the press, including in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, The Nation, Congressional Quarterly, Mother Jones, ESPN Magazine, the Chicago Tribune Magazine as well as numerous local newspapers.
Foyle is passionate about activating young people to be civically and politically engaged. In an op-ed piece, Foyle recounted the tremendous energy and creativity Democracy Matters students have brought to the work of deepening democracy.
Democracy Matters members raise awareness and educate others on their campuses and in nearby communities by organizing campaigns that link public financing of election campaigns to other important issues such as the environment, civil rights, foreign policy, and rising college tuition.
The slogans for Democracy Matters are Change Elections, Change America as well as Taking Money Out of Politics and Putting People Back In.
Public financing of election campaigns, similar to the successful state systems in Maine, Arizona and Connecticut also known as "Voter/Citizen-Owned Elections," or "Fair Elections" provide an alternative for a candidate to be publicly funded if she/he refuses to accept private donations from individuals or groups. This allows ordinary citizens, who lack the fiscal means, to run for office. It means that candidates can spend time talking with all voters, not just their big donors. And once elected, these publicly financed politicians are accountable to their constituents rather than to campaign contributors. Furthermore they can use their time working on issues important to the people they represent rather than spending many hours each day on the phone "dialing for dollars" or attending fundraisers.
There have been occasional accusations of political bias made against the Democracy Matters organization. The latest of these claims was made through a series of anonymous commentary chain emails launched in early January 2010. The author of these emails cites the "Money In Politics Quiz" on the organization's official website.
Several questions not related to clean election or campaign finance reform appear in this quiz, including one that asks about the number of Americans without health insurance and has no follow-up questions tying healthcare reform to the organization's mission.
The Democracy Matters consistent response to this kind of critiques is that as is stated above, the issue of the domination of corporate money in the political process is directly related to social, economic and other policies affecting the American people. Thus the role of campaign contributions by individuals from HMOs or large health insurance companies and other corporations with business interests in affecting health care policy is widely accepted. The huge contributions made by financial institutions in order to fight the regulation of the finance industry is another case in point. The highly respected and frequently cited Center for Responsive Politics offers data on extensive data on campaign contributions to federal candidates that corroborate these claims.
Furthermore, being non-partisan means not endorsing candidates. Democracy Matters does not endorse candidates. But we proudly take political positions on important social and political issues. That is not a partisan bias—it is acting as responsible engaged citizens in a democracy. We state out views openly rather than hiding behind anonymity.
The anonymous author also cites a question regarding the percentage of contributions that come from "non-Hispanic, White zip codes" as unfounded profiling and reverse-racism, accusing the organization of targeting Caucasian individuals simply because some may or may not be wealthy.
Democracy Matters response is that this claim that white, wealth individual contribute much more money to political campaigns than to people of color is an empirical statement, and has nothing to do with so-called "targeting." This data may be reviewed by going to the government's website linked to the Federal Election Commission.