Democracy Matters director speaks at Union


By Maryssa Mataras

Last Tuesday, Jan. 11, Director of Democracy Matters Joan Mandle,  spoke to Union students and faculty about the effects that the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case had on the 2010 mid-term elections. Democracy Matters is a non-partisan campus-based national student organization that works to get big private money out of politics.

This talk was featured as part of the Political Science Department’s Pizza and Politics speaker series.

Friday, Jan. 21 will be the one-year anniversary of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case. The decision made by the United States Supreme Court ruled that law cannot limit or ban spending by organizations to promote elections. This case reversed a law that for almost 100 years had prevented corporations and unions from spending unlimited amounts of money from their treasuries to influence political speech.

Currently Americans have a limit of $2300 that can be donated directly to campaigns; however, after the ruling of the Citizens United case (which was a 5 to 4 vote), citizens can donate limitless amounts of funds to organizations that endorse a particular candidate’s political speech.

As a result of the Citizens United case, the 2010 mid-term elections were unlike previous elections because organizations could spend unlimited amounts on promoting their favored candidate, or on negative attacks directed toward their opponents.

“Ads were running all of the time, as opposed to most of the time in 2010,” Mandle noticed.

More than three billion dollars was spent on the 2010 elections, an unprecedented amount for a mid-term election. Thus, one might conclude that the Citizens United case gave money a more prominent role in campaigns than votes.

States such as Maine, Arizona, and Connecticut have publicly funded campaigns that give interested candidates an equal playing field when running for public office.

In Middletown, Connecticut, a Wesleyan University student ran a publicly funded campaign and was voted into a position in the city.

In Maine, a single mother working as a waitress and community leader ran for office with a publicly financed campaign and is now a state representative.

The public finance option on a state level is Mandle’s hope for America’s future and with the newly elected New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, it looks as though another state is strongly considering the public. As of now, a New Yorker can donate up to $5,900 to any New York state candidate.

In addition to her position as Director of Democracy Matters, Mandle is a sociology professor at Colgate University and is currently on sabbatical writing a book about the process of starting a social movement in Barbados.

For any further information about Democracy Matters, including a weekend-long conference in Albany and Union’s local chapter, please contact Holland Martini at


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