Democracy Matters Explained

Democracy Matters is a non-profit, non-partisan grassroots student political organization that is dedicated to deepening democracy by promoting Clean Elections as a replacement to campaign corruption, and campaign finance reform.


The organization was founded in 2001 by NBA player and Colgate alumnus Adonal Foyle, with the assistance of his parents Jay Mandle (professor of economics at Colgate) and Joan Mandle (professor emeritus of sociology at Colgate).[1]

Adonal Foyle

See main article: Adonal Foyle. The NBA has twice 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.

Foyle’s commitment to Democracy Matters has 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.[2]

Tackling corruption

Main Article: political corruptionIn broad terms, political corruption is the misuse of public (governmental) power for illegitimate, usually secret private advantage.

All forms of government are susceptible in practice to political corruption. Degrees of corruption vary greatly, from minor uses of influence and patronage to do and return favors, to institutionalised bribery and even extortion, influence peddling, and fraud. While corruption often facilitates criminal enterprise such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and criminal prostitution, it is not restricted to these organized crime activities, and it does not always support or shield other crimes. Not only does corruption come in the form of attacks from outside, it also encompasses "skimming" by insiders, often in the form of embezzlement and nepotism.

Cleaning up elections

Campaign finance reform

Main Article: Campaign Finance ReformCampaign finance reform is the common term for the political effort in the United States to change the involvement of money in politics, primarily in political campaigns.

Although attempts to regulate campaign finance by legislation date back to 1867, the first successful attempts nationally to regulate and enforce campaign finance originated in the 1970s. The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) of 1971 required candidates to disclose sources of campaign contributions and campaign expenditure. It was amended in 1974 with the introduction of legal limits on contributions, and a provision created the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002 is the most recent major federal law on campaign finance, which revised some of the legal limits of expenditure set in 1974, and attempted to ban unregulated expenditures made by political parties called "soft money".

Clean Elections

Main Article: Clean ElectionsClean Elections, Clean Money, or Voter-Owned Elections are terms referring to a system of public financing of political campaigns (a form of campaign finance reform), which is currently being advocated and implemented on the state and local level in the United States. Some forms of Clean Elections legislation has been adopted, mostly through ballot initiatives, in Maine, Arizona, North Carolina, New Mexico, Vermont, and Massachusetts (though in the latter two it has been weakened or repealed). A form of clean elections was adopted by the state legislature in Connecticut after ex-Governor John G. Rowland's admitted corruption, indictment, impeachment and imprisonment. The city of Portland, Oregon has such a system, enacted in 2005.

Under a Clean Elections system, candidates hoping to receive public financing must collect a certain number of small "qualifying contributions" (often as little as $5) from registered voters. Upon qualifying and agreeing not to raise additional money from private sources, the candidate receives a flat sum from the government to run their campaign. Candidates who opt to finance their campaigns with private funds are subjected to sometimes severe restrictions on their fundraising activities, and Clean Elections candidates who are outspent by privately-funded opponents may receive additional public matching funds.

Because the system is voluntary, it appears not to run afoul of the United States Supreme Court's Buckley v. Valeo decision, which struck down mandatory spending limits as an unconstitutional restriction on free speech.

Comprehensive Clean Elections systems have been in effect in Arizona and Maine for several years. In those states, most candidates opt into the program. In Maine, an overwhelming majority (3/4) of state legislators are "Clean." In Arizona, the same is true of a majority of the state house, as well as the current Governor (Janet Napolitano).

Clean Elections has received some significant support and media attention at the national level. Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold are supporters.

Differences between CFR & CE

Readers of Clean Elections often mistake this ideal with the more traditional types of Camapaign Finance Reform. Main differences are:

Opponents of campaign finance reform

Most opponents claim that CFR infracts on free speech and violates the First Amendment rights. The argument states that money is necessary to effective free speech, and that one should be allowed to spend one's money to support the political candidates of their choice.

Others argue that money can never be separated from political influence. This basis is derived from the notion that money will always find its way to influence government officials, whether directly or indirectly. This has become painfully true with the influence and power exhibitted in the 2004 elections by 527s such as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and These two groups, among others, spent nearly $400 million on influencing the most recent elections, namely by bashing Sen. John Kerry and Pres. George W. Bush.

Critics of CFR include a variety of unlikely bedfellows, as both conservative interest groups (such as the NRA and the Christian Coalition) and liberal interest groups (AFL-CIO and ACLU) are opposed to CFR.

Some critics claim that government funded campaigns would be a financial albatross to the greater public, contributing to big government.

Still, others just find campaign contributions inconclusive in directly influencing an official's vote or decision.

CE have not received the same level of criticism, but it is unclear whether this is due to lack of publicity for the program, because it has not been seriously close to passage on the federal level, or because it is not mandated.

Raising awareness

Democracy Matters members raise awareness and educate others on their campuses and communities by organizing campaigns that link Clean Elections (CE) 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.

Clean Elections, also know as "Voter-Owned 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. In theory, CE makes officials more responsible to their constituents than to their campaign donors.


By offering paid internships to undergraduates to start a chapter on their campus, DM has spread to about 71 different college campuses across the U.S., and even a few high school chapters. Due to a new emphasis on politics from America's youth, Democracy Matters has become one of the fastest growing college groups in the United States.

The current list of chapters as of Fall 2004:

Notable alumni

External links

Foyle press releases

Chapter Links

Educational Links

Related organizations

Press on Clean Elections

Notes and References

  1. Mandel, Joan. Why We Need Reform.
  2. Foyle, Adonal. "My Generation Is Far From Apathetic"