On Oct. 12, students, faculty and community members gathered in the Alumni Center on the Keene State College campus, and it wasn’t just for the free pizza and crackers; they came to listen to four scholarly panelists on the crucial issue of money in politics.
The event was put on by KSC’s chapter of Democracy Matters, as well as the American Democracy Project.
The planning for the event began over the summer. The panelists began to reach out to Democracy Matters and then decided to come talk in a hands-on way about politics. The panel featured former Congressman William Zeliff and Paul Hodes, former United States Ambassador to Denmark Richard Swett and former Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit Arthur Gajarsa.
Issue One Reform, which is an organization that works on finding solutions for campaign finance reform, is also involved in helping improve the issues the four men spoke about.
Before the presentation, KSC senior and double major with sociology and women’s and gender studies Abby Donovan said she hoped to get the opinions of these experts on big money in politics.
The four men spoke to an intimate crowd of approximately 25 people. They each shared about their individual experiences while working in politics and how money affected each of them.
KSC Political Science Professor Michael Welsh was the moderator for the discussion and prompted several of the questions at the beginning, leading to discussion amongst the attendees of the event.
The first question asked by Welsh was: “What is your personal experience with political realities with campaign finance?”
The first to speak was former Congressman Hodes, explaining his encounters with money in politics.
“I ended up raising two million dollars [in 2006], and that was a record at the time for a Congressional Campaign in New Hampshire, but I spent most of my time raising money,” Hodes said.
Hodes was not an alone in his opinion, however. Many of the men speaking during the panel shared similar stories or agreed with Hodes’ commentary.
“I served in Congress in 1990, but at that time New Hampshire was a very different state than it is today and fundraising and campaign expenses were very different than they are today.”
“I was forced to go out and really try to raise my money from individuals, one-on-one, small donors and contributors… By the time I came back in 2001 [from Denmark], the cost of campaigns had almost quadrupled if not quintupled,” former U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Swett said.
The president of Democracy Matters Joe Barbesco and the Chapter Leader and Vice President Sydney Little organized this event in hopes that students would come out and realize the importance of understanding that there is a correlation between money in politics and the everyday lives of students and Americans in general.
“[We hoped] students would understand the prevalence of the issue in every single aspect that anyone could ever hear about, environmental advocacy, women’s rights, civil rights, student debt,” Barbesco said.
“Big money in politics affects every single one of those and we want students to know that, be educated on it, and go out and vote with that knowledge in mind so that we have people in office that are going to do their best to change it,” Little said.
Both Little and Barbesco got involved because they were passionate about the issues that Democracy Matters stands for, and wanted to make sure students are well-informed citizens.
“[At first] I didn’t even know what Campaign Finance Reform was, and I started getting into politics when I came across Democracy Matters, and it just grabbed me and I took a chance and applied. [I] got the position and ever since then, I’ve been so into politics and political events on campus,” Little said.
Democracy Matters reminds students that every vote does matter.
Barbesco said, “Our main focus is to get students aware, make them understand how connected this all really is to their lives and generally speaking [college] students and our generation are not involved in politics that much…and the problem that we face is that big donors can contribute so much money into elections.”
Barbesco continued, “Hopefully we can inspire students and inspire the public to try to get them on board and really fight for democracy.”
Mary Curtin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org