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Former congressman lectures on big money, democracy

By Staff | Sep 23, 2011

Former Pennsylvania representative Bob Edgar speaks at the Byrd Center for Legislative Studies Wednesday, Sept. 14 as part of Shepherd University's Constitution Week festivities. (Chronicle photo by Mike Cramer)

Former Pennsylvania Congressman Bob Edgar encouraged citizens to get involved and become aware of how big money depreciates the legislative process in a lecture hosted by Shepherd University entitled “Democracy at Risk” on Wednesday, Sept. 14.

From the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies, Edgar addressed students and community members about what he feels are the biggest threats to America’s democracy, such as campaign financing. Edgar expressed concern that legislators have become far too reliant on corporate special interests in order to raise enough money to get elected.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan government watchdog group Common Cause, where Edgar is president, has introduced bills to encourage the use of public financing for campaigns, something which Edgar admits has come with mixed success.

Edgar claimed that if officials are elected on public-not corporate-funds then they will be encouraged to work for the citizenry and not the corporation and political action committees which get them elected now.

According to Edgar some states, like Delaware, have already successfully incorporated public financing as a voluntary option for campaigns.

Edgar felt this message was important to bring to the public after a landmark United States Supreme Court decision brought campaign financing into the public eye. In 2010, the supreme court ruled in a 5-4 vote that the First Amendment prevents the limitation of corporate funding of independent political broadcasts during elections.

After the lecture, Edgar opened the floor for questions from attendees. Many asked Edgar about his feelings on specific legislation while other questions were a bit broader.

“So what should we do?” asked one woman from the audience.

Edgar encouraged community members to get involved and go out and vote. He also recommended that citizens visit their elected officials. Edgar said that it could be difficult to get face-to-face time with one’s representative, so he told the audience that if they won’t see you give them an award and they will show up to get it.

Finally he addressed the young people in the room, encouraging them to consider public service as an option. Edgar hoped to show young people the importance of taking action by explaining that their generation is the first to ever have the power to destroy the planet.

“That’s the context on which we have to talk about democracy,” Edgar said.

Edgar’s lecture, the Tom E. Moses Lecture Series, part of Shepherd’s Constitution Week festivities, was followed up by another lecture from actor Richard Dreyfus who also at the Byrd Center on Saturday, Sept. 17. Dreyfuss sits on the board at Common Cause.

Director of Programs and Research at the Byrd Center David Hostetter said that Edgar described the current political state of the U.S. very well.

“Edgar identified the problem as the dominant role of superpac money in our political system and pointed to ways that citizens can work together to undo the damage done by corporate control of politics.”

Constitution Week was started by the late U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd who was famous for carrying a pocket Constitution with him at all times.