Last week, the Student Government Association Senate voted to pass the American Anti-Corruption Act Resolution, which was written and brought to campus council by Evan Feldberg-Bannatyne ’20. This resolution affirms that SGA and the greater community of Grinnell College support legislation that upholds principles related to the productivity and efficiency of the U.S. government while curbing corruption.
The American Anti-Corruption Act (AACA), a piece of model legislation which acts as a guide for future laws, limits monetary contributions to politicians in order to reduce corruption. Feldberg-Bannatyne had been involved in anti-corruption work before coming to the College.
“Usually, what the goal is, is to be able to petition your community and get this measure on a ballot and do a ballot initiative and people can vote to support it,” said Feldberg-Bannatyne. “These laws will be legally enacted locally. Iowa, specifically Poweshiek County, is set up where it does not have ballot initiatives available to the people … so this [resolution] is kind of the next best thing.”
Feldberg-Bannatyne adapted the AACA into a resolution for SGA which details Grinnell’s support for the banning of lobbying, “closing the revolving door” and political fundraising during congressional hours. The resolution asks for transparent fundraising and voting commission and supports single open primaries.
The result of this resolution will not affect Grinnell’s student government directly as SGA is a student organization funded through the College and does not accept any kind of financial contributions. Feldberg-Bannatyne hopes that when U.S. politicians come to campus, the resolution will inspire students to have conversations with them, on the record, surrounding corruption on legislation such as the American Anti-Corruption Act.
“You get to have a conversation about specific policies and to get to understand their stance on these issues, and that’s great because it gets them on the record about some things they might not be inclined to talk about, and then whenever they go on their careers and they do things, either in line with the Anti-Corruption Act or against it, you now have this base, that you can send out to media outlets … and hold them accountable for what they say,” Feldberg-Bannatyne said.
During a discussion at campus council, students raised questions about the ultimate goals of this initiative and why it is relevant to SGA and to student government.
“I’m wondering what the relevance really is. … This is covering one specific act from my understanding and there’s going to be many different acts that as a student body we should support and politicians we’re voting for should support. What was your reasoning behind writing this one specific resolution about this one particular thing?” asked SGA Senator Takshil Sachdev ‘19.
Feldberg-Bannatyne responded, speaking on the function of government and how it was set up for democracy, including examples about issues such as health care and climate change.
“This is really important to me, just because I see the studies about where money’s spent, lobbyists and everything, and I feel like in this day and age … a lot of decisions and regulations not giving the teeth to enforce what they’re supposed to enforce, that our US government is susceptible to outside sources from both sides,” Feldberg-Bannatyne said. “If there’s one issue that you care about, it’s going to be really hard to make progress on that issue if your representative is holding to special interests.”
Other students had concerns about the legislation itself. SGA Senator Pranjal Drall ’20 disagrees with the idea of campus council endorsing specific legislation as well as the implications of banning lobbying.
“I think this is a massive overreach because imagine a labor union that wants political say, [such as] Planned Parenthood, or a small group of people,” Drall said after the discussion. “People think this will prevent the auto industry from cutting the EPA, but outside of that, it will stop people’s ability to have minor, local change happening. In that sense, it’s not a solution, it just completely takes away one of the most fundamental rights of people in democracy. I’m fine with this campaign finance reform, or having more transparency and some of those things in the bill, but this ‘massive-lobbyists-aren’t-allowed’ portion is questionable and I think it affects way more people than [students] may realize.”
To Feldberg-Bannatyne, the principles behind this bill are important to reach for, whether they are immediately attainable or not.
“I think the spirit of this is anti-corruption, but I feel like it’s really in the sense of trying to make American democracy healthy again, let it thrive. … It talks about all sorts of broader tactics that would help politicians govern their representatives more effectively, because it would ensure that they’re only listening to what the [constituents] have to say and it just holds people more accountable and encourages participation in democracy,” Feldberg-Bannatyne said.
When the discussion came to a vote, the resolution passed with five approvals, one rejection and eight abstentions. After the vote, some senators expressed disapproval of the outcome, and a there was a motion to strike SGA’s support from the resolution. In that vote, six senators voted to continue supporting the resolution with two against and six abstentions.
“In some issues, abstentions are used as a no-board. People think, if I’m abstaining I’m showing my disagreement with the vote but not explicitly against it,” Drall said. “Abstaining is shirking your responsibility because you’re supposed to represent your constituents’ views.”
Feldberg-Bannatyne said that he would have liked to have had a more engaging conversation with senators so that they would feel comfortable in their understanding of the resolution. However, he feels its passing is definitely positive.
“This is very nonpartisan stuff. In the real world where people have been implementing this at the local level, it’s typically been tea-partiers and democratic socialists teaming up, putting politics aside, to pass this,” he said. “They both want to the government to work more efficiently and I’d hope that all senators here want the government to work better.