“We are looking at the largest issue of our time,” remarked John Laird, UC Santa Cruz alumnus and current Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency in his opening remarks to “Money, Politics, Climate Change and the Law: Will We Rise to the Challenge?” a panel discussion that took place over UCSC’s recent alumni weekend.
Part of the True Originals lecture series, the event brought together a lustrous mix of legal and political figures (and former Slugs) in California to discuss the interplay of money and power in our political systems in relation to climate change.
Paul Hall, Esq. (Merrill ’72) moderated an interdisciplinary panel of distinguished alumni who included Mary Doyle (Porter, '74), Former Vice President, Legal and Global Chief Compliance and Ethics Officer at Oracle, Judge Kelvin Filer (Stevenson ’77), Los Angeles Superior Court in Compton, Judge Teri Jackson (Stevenson ’77) of San Francisco Superior Court, Art Torres (Stevenson ’68), a Retired State Senator and Vice Chair of California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and Zach Wasserman (Merrill ’69), a public interest lawyer in Oakland.
Where does campaign finance reform end, and how can it begin?
The discussion began with an overview of Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Case that addressed how corporations and labor unions can finance political campaigns. In a 5-4 decision, the court held that political contributions from organizations represented an expression of freedom of speech, and it was their first amendment right.
The result of the 2010 ruling? Corporations can now pay for local elections, said Jackson. And as Filer pointed out, it is at this local level where a political culture is learned. For him, campaign finance reform must begin there. For Torres, change must be participatory with voter engagement. Voter turnout must increase, especially with the country’s youth demographic. He also called for more voter registration.
Transparency and citizen activism: climate change as a lens
When dealing with climate change and the environment, the panel emphasized the need for an engaged citizen body and a more transparent political system – now more than ever. As Wasserman observed, there is a paradigm shift happening that is rupturing both America’s government processes and its environmental action.
“We need to learn how to adapt,” Wassermann commented.
Wasserman suggested that the public should put pressure on corporations to come through with their “green talk” and fulfill their promises of reduced carbon emissions and improved environmental sustainability. Torres encouraged citizens to visit legislative offices: both locally and in the capitol.
For Jackson, knowing that the public is heard is an important and integral step in the legislative process.
To find out more about climate change research at UC Santa Cruz, follow the hashtag #UCSCclimate over social media.
The Division of Social Sciences is committed to maintaining an ongoing dialogue and discussion about climate change policy. Annually, the division co-hosts a conference that brings public attention to the challenges of climate change and provides compelling reasons why effective action is immediately required.
Information about the 2016 conference is forthcoming.