How a Former NBA Player Changed the Debate on Campaign Finance
13 years ago, former NBA player Adonal Foyle founded the nonprofit Democracy Matters to fight the takeover of our democracy by wealthy campaign contributors. Since 2001, Democracy Matters has grown into a national organization engaging thousands of students across the United States.
The main question authors Jay and Joan Mandle pose in their new book Change Elections to Change America is how to harness this activism and the need for change into a social movement on college campuses. Both are co-founders of Democracy Matters and Joan Mandle is a board member of Public Campaign and serves as the Executive Director of Democracy Matters.
Given the overwhelming support from the American public to change campaign finance laws, a social movement seems like the next natural step. An Every Voice poll conducted in July showed 73% of voters support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and 55% support public financing of elections.
The Mandles believe young people will play a special role in creating a social movement for campaign finance reform given their historical participation in highlighting the need for social change.
One way, the authors argue is to harness the energy of progressives who work toward specific policy outcomes like the environment and marriage equality, and build out the movement from there. However, the Mandles warn, “they are almost always reluctant to commit strongly to the issue, though many would concede that the power of private contributions has seriously damaged their own cause.”
As they acknowledge however, progressive groups have begun to message on the need for campaign finance reform. Take the Sierra Club, which has endorsed overturning Citizens United and Rep. John Sarbanes’ (D-MD) Government By The People Act and written reports about how big money has “polluted our democracy and our environment.”
Change Elections to Change America shows how Democracy Matters has demonstrated the feasibility of a student movement around campaign finance in the digital age.