Campaign finance reform and the impact of money in our elections are often thought of as important political issues, but rarely as youth issues. Little is said about the effects of massive corporate political spending on the lives of our nation’s young adults.
But while allowing wealthy special interests to pour unlimited money into our political system harms everyone, it is especially detrimental to young people. In a system where politicians can win elections by outraising their opponents, it is difficult for young adults to have their voices heard. As the most underemployed and debt-ridden generation in our country’s history (through no fault of our own, it’s worth noting), the Millennial Generation has no way of matching the campaign contributions of the nation’s wealthiest. This puts us at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to electing officials who will represent our interests and enact policies that meet our needs. Nothing has exacerbated these issues more than the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC – and things could get even worse with the upcoming McCutcheon v. FEC Supreme Court ruling.
For America to remain democratic and politically inclusive regardless of socio-economic means, it is imperative that we raise awareness of the harmful effects of big money in politics and that we call upon Americans – especially young adults – to take action to get Money Out, Voters In. Young People For (YP4), a program of People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF), has been working diligently towards this goal. Through its collaborative Money in Elections campaign, YP4 is educating students across the country on the negative effects of the dramatic increase of money in elections since the Citizens United decision, and empowering them to engage others on this issue.
The campaign has already taken some exciting steps: YP4 Fellow and Howard University student Brendien Mitchell spoke alongside Senator Bernie Sanders and other movement leaders about the importance of hearing young people’s voices in the midst of massive political spending by the wealthy at People For the American Way’s recent McCutcheon v. FEC Rally for Democracy. YP4 Fellow and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute student Ernesto Villasenor has met with NY State Senator Neil Breslin to address issues surrounding money in elections, and is deeply engaged in the “Students United For Democracy” initiative – a campaign led by advocacy organizations including YP4 to pass campus resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. In support of these resolution efforts, fellows are publishing awareness-raising op-eds in campus and local newspapers across the country. In the coming months, YP4 will continue this work by supporting students in money in elections campaign efforts in their own campuses and communities.
If our political system is to remain a real democracy, the largest and most diverse generation in American history must be guaranteed a government that responds to its needs. And despite most Americans’ inability to donate millions to campaigns, all of us deserve an equal ability to hold elected officials accountable during elections. This is why YP4 is working hard to provide young adults with a better understanding of how money in elections affects them, and to give them the tools to push for change in their local, state, and national communities.
Gabriela De Golia is the Advocacy Associate at YP4, where she runs their Money in Elections collaborative campaign.