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Annual Meeting 2012

by Chrystal Schivell

Rita Ludlum welcomed the 36 attendees to our 80th Annual Meeting, held at the Salt Creek Grille on June 18. She summarized the year's events:

  • our participation in the YWCA's Women's Equality Day;
  • Back to League Night with Ben Dworkin; a tour of Edith Wilson's art exhibit, sponsored by the Historical Society of Princeton;
  • Sandy Matsen's workshop on Armchair Advocacy; and
  • the consolidation of the two Princetons, for which the League worked for years.
Rita explained that our leadership organizational structure will continue to be a Committee of the Whole; she introduced the committee members and urged listeners to fill the open positions of secretary, membership, and Update editor.

Chrystal Schivell gave the fall Voter Services report, and Sandy Smith, our most active new member, described the gratification she felt when explaining the presidential election process to international students at Princeton University and during Voting 101, a workshop for new citizens co-sponsored with the Princeton Public Library, the Human Services Commission, and the Latin American Task Force.

Lee Forbes followed with a report about the League’s National Convention, at which she was our delegate. Ellen Kemp's treasurer's report assured us that we are solvent, and Sandy Shapiro urged us to make full use of the website and to register our email addresses so that we can be kept informed electronically now that we are discontinuing our mailed Update.

Rita closed the business meeting with a look to the future: Women's Equality “Weekend” August 24-26; new, regular meetings on the 2nd Tuesday of each month; opportunities for lobbying; and our 80th Anniversary Party with an Alice Paul re-enactor to be held in October. This information will also be posted on our website.

After dinner, Edith Neimark introduced our speaker, Leslie Gerwin, JD, MPH, MPA, Associate Director, Program in Law and Public Affairs, Princeton University and Adjunct Professor of Law, Yeshiva University. Leslie began her topic, “Dead Presidents and Live Politicians: The Assault of Campaign Cash on Our Democracy,” with the startling statement that the Citizens United decision was good for the country. Having gotten our attention, she explained: Since 1971 campaign finance reform has gone nowhere, but the country is finally stirred up by Citizens United. However, a problem bigger than this year's likely unprecedented spending (the dead presidents on bills) is the influence of money in government. Amazingly, politicians must spend 50% of their time on fund-raising.

Leslie described four scenarios, all with humorously named characters, to demonstrate that asking for money may mean having to give something back to the donor. A request to a lobbyist, businessman, or banker might result in the politician's backing a rider that hurts consumers in his constituency or interferes with a watch-dog agency overseeing the donor. Since money talks to power, cliques form between politicians and donors, making it hard for new candidates to get started and unlikely that new ideas will be promulgated. And when politicians must spend half their time raising funds, they may not find the time to speak with constituents (Leslie chose a League president for her example) nor to read the bills they will vote on. Although such log-rolling is age-old, Leslie believes it is now more sinister, with a greater return in the value of favors for every dollar donated and with a resultant distrust in government among ordinary citizens.

Leslie offered three solutions:

  • Full disclosure (“follow the money”) would allow us to follow the money and know who's giving it, but transparency is not enough. We also need to connect the money to the actions taken by politicians, to understand what influence the money is buying.
  • “Show the money” refers to public financing of elections, wherein politicians are shown/given money. A problem with public financing is that people don't want to finance a candidate they hate. However, there are ideas out there, such a free TV or designating a candidate or party, that might improve public financing.
  • “Forget the money” argues that every person has one vote—corporations have none—so we simply need to become informed and to vote. Why do we listen to negative ads? Why not look up the candidate's platform and/or public record? Leslie complimented the League for its role here.

For further information, Leslie recommended Laurence Tribe’s June 13, 2012 essay, “The Once-and-for-All Solution to Our Campaign Finance Problems: How citizens can unite to undo Citizens United,” in Slate.com and Lawrence Lessig's book Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It. She took questions for the remainder of the hour.

At 9:00, Nancy Hall, who organized the evening, presented Leslie with the book A Woman's Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot by Mary Walton, and the meeting adjourned.