Ravel unravels political finance at IOP

The FEC vice chair discussed the declining trust Americans have in their government and the corrupting power of dark money.

By Kiwon Lee

On Tuesday evening, Ann Ravel, Federal Election Commission (FEC) vice chair, spoke at an event which was hosted by the Institute of Politics (IOP). Ravel discussed the shortcomings of the American campaign finance system, as well as U.S. citizens’ declining trust in government.

During the talk portion of the event, Ravel said she was concerned with the declining number of Americans who trust the government to do right. Seventy-six percent of Americans agreed with that statement in 1976, 44 percent agreed in 2000, and only 20 percent agreed in 2013. “I find it really troubling that only one in five people in this country believe that they can trust government to do the right thing,” Ravel said.

Ravel also discussed “dark money,” a term for donations to political campaigns that candidates do not have to report to the FEC or disclose to the public.

“It sounds appropriately nefarious. But actually, it is not a very good term because the recipients of this money know exactly who is contributing. It’s only the American public that doesn’t know about it,” Ravel said. “Transparency, people care about. They want to know about things that are happening that impact their lives and they can make decisions based on that information.”

Ravel pointed out that the reason money is so influential is because it is crucial to getting elected. “Clearly, money is important to be able to buy ads, to get the message out to people, and convince them,” she said.

In an interview conducted before the talk, Ravel said that young people were especially turned off by the lack of transparency surrounding campaign donations. She said that young people do not vote, think of running for office, or participate in political matters because they are the ones who “are the most disheartened by our political system and feel that because of the prevalence of so much money from wealthy interests, their voices are not important.”

“That, I think, is really a mistake because the political system is so important in our democracy and people’s votes make a difference and have made differences. So I would encourage young people not only to vote but to try to get other people to vote and become engaged,” Ravel said.