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by Stephen Collins '74
Associate Professor of Government Anthony J. Corrado and a corps of Colby students will play a key role in a national effort to bring new voices into the debate over campaign finance reform.
A leading national expert on campaign finance reform, Corrado sees broad public involvement in the debate as a catalyst for change. "Reform is more likely when a diverse coalition of people raise their voices in an effort to fix problems in the campaign finance system," he said.
Corrado spent 1998-99 working with the Committee for Economic Development as project director for what that group called "a business proposal for campaign finance reform," a project also funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts. Now he is the principal investigator for the initiative to engage multicultural and religious communities.
"The notion that 'the public doesn't care' is perceived as a barrier to reform," Corrado said. The Pew Charitable Trusts identified the need to expand the coalition of voices engaged in the discussion beyond Washington insiders and public interest groups that traditionally shaped the debate. "There needs to be more awareness of the facts and of possibilities to change the system while protecting our free-speech and political-association rights," he said.
The partnership created by this project, linking Colby and the diverse membership of the two nonprofit groups, is unique, Corrado said. The Interfaith Alliance Foundation, based in Washington, includes more than 50 faiths and traditions and engages in advocacy and efforts to challenge religious extremism. It has worked for ethical practices in campaigns and against attack ads but is only now getting into campaign finance issues. The Greenlining Institute is a San Francisco-based coalition of organizations concerned with multi-ethnic public policy advocacy and committed to empowering communities of color and other disadvantaged groups.
Corrado's charge is to help both groups understand the issues so they can come up with their own ideas for reform. Currently he has two research assistants, seniors Jennifer Worden of Nashville, Tenn., and Bradford Wand of Avon, Conn., and a group of 12 junior and senior government majors who are working in four research teams. As part of a four-credit course the teams are creating bibliographies and assembling and analyzing data to help the nonprofit groups understand the role of corporate and labor money, the experience of public funding initiatives in Maine and Arizona, the concerns of different ethnic and income groups and the role of political contributions by big health-care firms.
Not only are students learning by doing original research, their research is breaking new ground and may play a role in addressing a national dilemma. It is the first real inquiry into attitudes toward the campaign finance issue that is segmented along ethnic, racial, religious and socioeconomic lines, Corrado said.
He and two assistants will work through the summer on the project, and a group of government majors will continue research in the fall semester. He expects the two nonprofit coalitions to present their ideas in 2002.
Surrounded by towering bookshelves in his Miller Library office, Corrado fielded a call from a USA Today reporter and leaned back in his chair. For 20 minutes he explained, dispassionately, the Colorado campaign finance case before the U.S. Supreme Court before returning, for his Colby visitor, to the explanation of his current research.
Only when he described an antic schedule that splits his time between Maine and the District of Columbia with blitz trips to Arizona or Colorado (where he was an expert witness in the case now before the Supreme Court) was there a hint of the deep-seated concern that fuels his consuming interest in campaign finance reform. Why push himself so?
"If you look at the current campaign finance system, there are no limits on the money going in," he said. "Tens of millions of dollars [are] being spent to influence policy decisions."
"If you wanted to be among the top one hundred individual donors in the last election, you had to give $1.1 million," he said. "That's not healthy for democracy. While financial participation is an important part of political participation, there needs to be a workable set of regulations that safeguards the process."
"As recent news events show," he said, alluding to presidential pardons and legislative battles on Capitol Hill, "money is playing a larger and larger role in public policy making."
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