On Thursday of last week, Occupy Albany activists held a rally outside the James T. Foley United States Courthouse in downtown Albany. The rally was a part of the #OccupytheCourts action that took place in several cities across the country on the anniversary of the Citizens United ruling which enabled corporations can buy our elections. Larry Parham, our Upstate Campaigns Manager, was there and talked about the importance public financing of campaigns to remove the corrosive influence of money from our elections. Here’s what he said (and check out our Facebook photo album for pictures we shot at the rally here):
There is a contagious, selective disease that has become an epidemic in Albany. It’s selective because it only affects politicians. Not all politicians, mind you, but it affects enough of them to affect how we live. I have named this disease “Big Money-itis”. It’s an insidious disease that occurs when professional politicians that have made elective office their career goal decides to finance their re-election campaigns with Big Money donors.
This selective disease causes those who are infected to become more concerned with the wishes and needs of big-money donors than the wishes and needs of those who elected them into office. Special interest – corporate interest, really – overrides what is in the best interest of the people of NYS.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo mentioned this affliction during his State of State Address. He spoke about the “pay to play’ culture, gridlock, corruption – all symptoms of Big Money-itis. Luckily for us, during his State of the State speech Cuomo proposed a solution to Big Money-itis. It will not cure them all (truth be told, some of them like being infected!) but its impact will change the way politics are conducted in Albany.
I’m talking about Voter Owned Elections. I’m talking about Publicly Financed Elections. I’m talking about the people of NYS owning the electoral process which elects their state representative instead of corporation and lobbyist money owning state representatives. If we want to get rid of Big Money-itis in Albany, if we want to change the political process in this state so that any citizen in New York State, regardless of where they come from – whether it is a rural farm in upstate NY or community activist in Greenwich, whether they come from the streets of Buffalo or a bodega in Spanish Harlem – we must get rid of Big Money-itis; so these individuals can actually one day become an elected representatives of the people. Let’s follow the lead of a Governor who got it right on this issue. Let’s pass Public Financing of Elections. Let’s pass Voter Owned Elections. Let’s pass Campaign Finance Reform in New York State – not in 2013, not in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 – let’s pass Public Financing of Election in 2012, let’s pass it now, let’s get rid of Big Money-itis, let’s take back our electoral process in NYS. 26 States have some form of public financing of elections. 16 of those states offer public funds to candidates running for office. Let’s make NYS one of those states.
This issue is so important that every person in this state, regardless of their political beliefs, regardless if they are a Republican or Democrat, regardless in they are a member of a community of color or from the LGBTQ community,, should take action. The people of New York should be in the street marching, on the phones calling, sitting down at a computer writing to their state representatives. We should tell them “look here employee, I pay you some of the best salaries in the nation, give you some of the best benefits and job perks other people could only dream of, I want you to go back to Albany and pass Voter Owned Elections. I want you to fight to make Campaign Finance Reform real. I want you for once to put voter interest above special interest. I want you to show me why I should keep you in office. Show me that you are not afraid of public financing because you know you do your job well. If they don’t do these things, we can only conclude that they are afraid of voter owned elections because they know they have Big Money-itis and they don’t want to be cured.”
I understand we are gathered here today to mourn for a second anniversary of the horrific decision of the Supreme Court to give even more “free speech” money in our political system to corporations. And I understand that for many, this decisions caused the untimely death to our democracy. But I am unwilling to believe that our democracy is truly dead. Here in New York – we have an opportunity to breathe new life into our democracy. Even though we must fight, long term, to overturn Citizens United, to end corporate personhood – we still must also implement a system of public campaign finance reform in order to open up our democracy to everyone. In order to have elected representatives who don’t have to depend on big money but who can run for office, win, and fight for the issues that we know will make positive changes in peoples lives. New life for our democracy and political process could be coming very soon to New York – but not without your help.
With that, I offer each of you a challenge today to help us change the political process in NYS, to help us stop “the business as usual” culture in Albany to help us limit the spread of Big-Money-itis.
Each of you can leave here today determined to tell a friend – to tell two friends – to write a letter or sign on to a letter that we will be sending to the Governor supporting his stance on public financing. Each of you can tell some one else to write a letter or a join a sign-on letter; you can make a phone call; visit a legislator; each of you could leave here today with a mindset that will shake the City of Albany, that will get the attention of the country, because if we change politics in NYS we will send a message that this government of the people, by the people will not be sold out. We are are going to win a system that begins to put people back in the drivers seat – not corporate special interest dollars.