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In Your Own Backyard: Cleaning up

New local chapter of national organization calls for campaign finance reform

 by Tara Brite  published on Thursday, February 10, 2005

<em>Brandon Quester / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE</em><br>Spanish sophomore Sara Myklebust and political science freshman Fletcher Fowler have started a local chapter of Democracy Matters, a national organization devoted to reforming campaign financing./issues/arts/691899
Brandon Quester
Brandon Quester / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE
Spanish sophomore Sara Myklebust and political science freshman Fletcher Fowler have started a local chapter of Democracy Matters, a national organization devoted to reforming campaign financing.
 

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For two ASU students, almost nothing matters as much as democracy.

That's why they want to bring Democracy Matters to campus.

The national nonpartisan organization began in 2001 when basketball player Adonal Foyle decided it was time to give students across the country a voice concerning campaign finance reform, mainly dealing with the clean elections system.

On a recent Wednesday night by the fireplace in the Memorial Union, Spanish sophomore Sara Myklebust is speaking passionately to a small group of students about the group. It's the club's first meeting, and Myklebust is its co-president.

She explains the group's goals of reform.

Nearby sits political science freshman Fletcher Fowler, the group's other co-president.

He looks at the group over his laptop computer, which is adorned with a simple sticker that reads "Democracy Matters: Change Elections. Change America."

Fowler says the clean elections system is one that aims to take corporate buying power out of elections.

"It just disappears," he says. "You don't have to worry about financing."

Fowler says politicians running under clean elections do not accept donations from large companies to run their campaigns. Instead, they petition for $5 contributions. In the event their opponents run "unclean" campaigns, they will receive funds to match those raised by their opponents. The goal of such an action, Fowler says, is to "stop politicians from being bought."

"I think the clean elections system is the way to make politicians hold to their constituency," he says. "Our government will represent us, instead of who holds the biggest wad of cash."

Fowler says in 1998, 79 percent of politicians won their elections based on spending the most money, but in 2002, only 2 percent of those who spent the most money won.

"That is my favorite statistic," he says with a smile.

Myklebust makes it a point to clarify the organization's nonpartisan stance. She says many people believe Democracy Matters is a liberal group because of its opposition to relationships such as that between Republicans and the oil industry.

"The goal is just to get corporations out of politics," she says. "If you want people who are representing you instead of corporations, then it really doesn't matter what side of the political spectrum you are coming from."

Fowler agrees, saying there are 28 Republicans and 18 Democrats in the U.S. Legislature who ran clean in the last election, showing the system is not one-sided.

According to Myklebust, Arizona and Maine are the only two states that have already implemented clean elections.

However, she says many people hold common misconceptions about Democracy Matters. One misconception is that it receives money from taxpayers when it's really parking tickets and transit services that fund it.

She says the primary goal of the ASU chapter is to educate the public.

"We want to educate people about what it does, how it works and where the money comes from," she says, as she slaps her hand on the table to emphasize each point. "Education will enable stuff to happen."

Myklebust and Fowler already have plans for Democracy Matters on and off campus.

Myklebust says the organization's first event will be co-hosted by the Undergraduate Student Government and will be called A Devil's Guide to Democracy, which will promote political issues on campus. She says other events still in the planning stages include lobbying the state Legislature, participating in high school teach-ins, a mini-summit and other educational events.

"We have stuff being planned, but there is a lot of other stuff we want to do, too," she says, encouraging the students surrounding her to think of policies they want to improve.

Other issues the club might explore include reforms dealing with public advertising time on television. Myklebust says it is unfair to force a politician to pay so much money for airtime in areas where he or she has no constituents.

She tells an anecdote about a district election in New York where small-time politicians had to pay big-time cash for television air.

But, clean elections are her biggest concern.

"There are other reforms to talk about," she says. "But we'll probably focus on clean elections because it is already here, and it is being threatened."

Fowler adds that in the 2006 election, there most likely will be many propositions to get clean elections off of the ballot.

"A lot of bills will either make or destroy the system," he says.

And of course, Myklebust and Fowler agree the clean elections system is worth keeping around.

Fowler says, "It's a really great system. It's a way to get people to stop buying candidates. Most importantly, the peoples' interests are at heart."

The next Democracy Matters meeting will be at

5:30 p.m. on Monday near the fireplace in the Memorial Union. For more information on the club and the cause, visit www.democracymatters.org.

Reach the reporter at tara.brite@asu.edu.



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