Letitia James, Zephyr Teachout, others discuss money in politics at BRIC House
Brooklyn Independent Media hosted a town hall titled “Big Money & Politics: Can Your Voice Count?” at the BRIC House Ballroom in Fort Greene on Wednesday night, with former gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout and Public Advocate Letitia James among its panel members.
Teachout and James were joined on the stage by Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union; Al Vann, former New York state assemblymember and city councilmember; journalist Doug Henwood and comedian Ted Alexandro. Brian Vines, a senior producer at Brooklyn Independent Media, moderated.
The purpose of the town hall was to discuss the role that money plays in politics these days — how it affects us personally and how people can play a role in changing the system. Panelists also took questions from the many local citizens and activists in the audience.
“I would not be here but for campaign financing,” said James. “I would not be public advocate of the city of New York. Campaign finance creates a level playing field and the reality is that our system of government is broken. It’s broken because of the influence of big money.”
“The public advocate is exactly right; we have a broken system,” Teachout added. “We cannot have a private financing system and actually have self-governance. If you think it’s not affecting you, it’s affecting you so much that you cannot even see it.”
Many of the panelists pointed out that many issues that people are dealing with, such as education and our energy policy, all come back to the influence of money in government. Public financing of elections was touted by all of the panelists, including Dadey, who pointed out that public financing would also improve our participation in elections.
“It shows…that public funding can not only counteract the influence of big money, but it can also inspire and motivate people to run for office,” Dadey said. “Our city council is a very representative body of the neighborhoods and communities that make up the city. It has evolved ever since campaign financing has been put into effect.”
The panelists acknowledged that this is a tough issue to handle, as it’s not in the best interest of incumbent candidates to pass public campaign financing laws as it would hurt their own reelection efforts. Many suggested that the best thing to do is to organize and keep pressure on public officials.
“We can do it by putting pressure on elected officials,” said Henwood. “They need to know that they won’t get reelected if they don’t do the right thing. We need that kind of energy. Once you go to the voting booth, your job is not done. That’s only one small part of the process.”
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