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A $1.3-million project to bring new voices into the debate over campaign finance reform was recently funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and is being administered by Colby College. Associate Professor of Government Anthony J. Corrado, the principal investigator for the grant, is working with two influential nonprofit organizations, the Interfaith Alliance Foundation and The Greenlining Institute, and undergraduates at Colby are involved in research for the project.
Corrado, one of the leading national experts on campaign finance, 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, but the notion that ‘the public doesn’t care’ is perceived as a barrier to reform,” he said. The goal of the new project is 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,” Corrado 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.” That project, also supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts, formed the basis of a national coalition of business leaders in favor of reform. Corrado hopes that the research being conducted at Colby will stimulate similar efforts by other groups of citizens.
The partnership, which links Colby with the diverse constituents of The Interfaith Alliance Foundation and the Greenlining Institute, 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, committed to empowering communities of color and other disadvantaged groups.
This project also will support research so Corrado can help both groups understand the issues in order to come up with their own ideas for reform. Two student research assistants and a group of 12 Colby government majors are doing original research to create bibliographies and to assemble and analyze data on campaign finance issues. The research made possible by this project is the first serious inquiry into attitudes toward the campaign finance system along ethnic, racial, religious and socioeconomic lines, Corrado said.
Corrado, current chair of Colby’s government department, has taught at the Maine college since 1986. He is co-chair of the Board of Trustees of the Campaign Finance Institute in Washington. The author of four books on campaign finance, he is also a nonresident senior fellow of the Brookings Institution and chair of the American Bar Association’s Advisory Commission on Election Law.
The Pew Charitable Trusts support nonprofit activities in the areas of culture, education, the environment, health and human services, public policy and religion. Based in Philadelphia, the Trusts make strategic investments to help organizations and citizens develop practical solutions to difficult problems. In 2000, with approximately $4.8 billion in assets, the Trusts granted more than $230 million to 302 nonprofit organizations.