We live in a country where we have the right to select our leaders via election, be it federal, state or local leadership. Here in the Willamette Valley, we know our interests will be represented by those we vote for. After all, it is the electorate that gives the elected their power, right?

Elections are expensive. As citizens we are allowed to donate money to candidates and ballot measures and exercise our influence. We even have regulations to restrict donations so the wealthy and big businesses won’t override the rest of the population.

Don’t we?

Not in Oregon. We are going to need to make big waves to get
attention focused back on us.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, our state stands alongside Alabama, Missouri, Nebraska, Utah and Virginia in having no restrictions on campaign donations to political candidates.

Followthemoney.org, an organization that collects and logs campaign contributions for each state directly from each state’s government, shows how certain individuals who donate to campaigns in large sums are also CEOs of companies. These individuals are potentially seeking influence for their enterprises. Some of these donors are not even Oregon residents.

Here is an example: According to receipts submitted to the Oregon Secretary of State’s office, in one statewide race during 2012, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, the chief legal adviser to the state government, received a donation of $70,000 from John Sperling. Who is this individual donating towards an Oregon election? Sperling lived in Phoenix and was the chairman of the board for Apollo Group Inc. at the time, as well as the company’s founder. The Apollo Group owns the University of Phoenix.

That’s just one of many contributions made to Oregon races. According to followthemoney.org, approximately $66 million was donated to statewide political campaigns in Oregon during 2012. Of that, more than $45 million came from businesses and institutions such as nonprofits, colleges, charities and others.

There is no way to avoid the fact that some politicians will feel like they owe these organizations that funded their elections. When electoral candidates take money, they owe a debt to the financial backer, a debt that may mean supporting policies that are best for the donor instead of best for the voter.

And this isn’t just Oregon’s problem.

The Federal Elections Committee has placed restrictions on donations to federal campaigns, but there are still issues. According to the FEC’s website, large donations can be made by individuals — which include U.S. businesses as well as citizens — directly to parties, PACs and other qualifying committees, which, in turn, re-distribute it to other candidates. This allows for corporations and wealthy individuals to contribute multiple times. The invention of the SuperPAC allows for unlimited spending on behalf of candidates, as long as the SuperPAC never directly contributes to or coordinates with the candidate or party.

But what do we do? We are college students, and most of us are broke. If we pulled all the money we could spare, we could never buy the loyalty we should already expect from politicians.

What we must do is make our opinions known, and we have three ways to take action.

The first is to go talk to Lane’s student government.

The Associated Students of Lane Community College sends a delegation to Salem several times each year to lobby. Tell them your issues so they can represent you. ASLCC works with the Oregon Student Association to help further students’ interests. They are here to represent you. Put them to work.

Sara Shepherd is the state affairs director of ASLCC. Her position requires her to interact directly with the Oregon state legislature. If you are a credit student who pays an activity fee, you are a member of ASLCC, so she has a responsibility to you. Go to the ASLCC Senate meetings Wednesdays at 4 p.m. and speak your mind.

Another option can be found at wolf-pac.com.

Wolf-PAC is an organization that is currently campaigning across the country to get a 28th amendment added to the U.S. Constitution for the separation of corporations and state, and also limiting the overall amount that can be donated by individuals. The organization was founded by Cenk Uygur, current host of The Young Turks, an online news show, and a Columbia University Law graduate.

Mike Monetta, a representative of Wolf-PAC, said in an email that the goal of the organization was to implement the separation of wealth and state, including a goal to make SuperPACs extinct.

Wolf-PAC is encouraging volunteers to contact state representatives to support the new amendment. If two-thirds, or 34, of the states’ congresses ratify a constitutional change, then it overrides the federal government and adds that amendment.

If you go to wolf-pac.com you will find many ways to help make this change. All of Oregon’s senators’ and representatives’ contact information is available to tell them to support Wolf-PAC.

People can also act on their own to instigate this change. You can demand that your representatives, both on the state and federal level, take actions to restrict these donations. You can arrange your own petition for this issue to be addressed.

The most important thing is to get your voice heard. Reciprocity towards businesses and wealthy individuals is the how many politicians get money to win elections. That relationship should be between average voters and the elected candidate.

If we do nothing, our politicians will continue to be vulnerable to influence from private interests, and we can’t afford that risk. We have to take a stand to fairly distribute the influence in politics. If we fail to act, who will protect our interests?

No one.