Religion and Campaign Finance Reform Mix: Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf To Talk Elections


Remember the “Ground Zero mosque” that wasn’t just a mosque but actually a community center but still had people enraged back in 2010 because they thought it would be a victory monument to terrorism?

We hadn’t really thought about it much recently, either — until today, when we heard that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, one of the original religious leaders behind the project, would be involved in a new local effort: campaign finance reform.

Tomorrow, religion and politics are mixing at an event hosted by a local good government group that is pushing to get campaign finance reform underway this year in the state — and as part of their efforts, they’re bringing together high-profile religious figures to discuss politics.

It’s an interesting approach to a highly political issue that the group Common Cause/NY is rallying around this year. They hope the panel will encourage a wider audience to care about the ways in which campaigns are financed.

“The faith community has a particular way of engaging the world and thinking through the challenges of daily life that’s different from those of us that work in public policy or good government,” Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY, told the Voice this afternoon.

Tomorrow night, her organization and the New York Society for Ethical Culture will co-host a public panel discussion about the religious and moral perspective on campaign finance reform and fair elections.

It’s an issue that’s been making headlines recently, with Albany lawmakers considering legislation that would reform the state’s campaign finance system.

Common Cause, along with other partnering groups, has been pushing for the public financing of elections, which would allow candidates to run for office by collecting many small donations and receiving public funds to run campaigns. These kinds of efforts are also designed to curb the influence of special interests in elections.

“This is a topic that the scriptures in many different traditions talk about — not as campaign finance reform — but in how you deal with the corruption of money,” Lerner said. “They talk about it in a moral way that I think brings an added dimension in the way we should be talking and thinking about this democratic challenge in our system.”

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is certainly a high-profile figure who will draw some attention tomorrow night. He is no longer associated with the Park51 community center project, but in 2010 was at the center of the controversial development. He founded the nonprofit called the Cordoba Initiative in 2004, and last year was one of Time Magazine’s most influential people in the world.

The event tomorrow was also scheduled this week to coincide with May Day and the resurgence of Occupy Wall Street.

“One of the things that Occupy Wall Street has identified well…is the extraordinary impact of special interest dollars on our elections and on government,” Lerner said. “This is another way to engage a different segment of our society. Is this the way we want our democracy and our country to work? What are some of the ways that different faith traditions have dealt with the longstanding problem of inequality?”

Lerner said she hopes that the religious leaders will broaden the conversation and make it accessible to more people: “We’re talking about a stronger more cohesive society that has a more robust democracy where we’re all in this together.”

Other panelists include Rabbi David Saperstein, from the Religious Action Center, Rev. Dr. Alison Boden, from Princeton University, and Leader Anne Klaeysen, from Ethical Culture.

The event is tomorrow (Thursday) at the New York Society for Ethical Culture at 2 West 64th Street at 7 pm. You can RSVP here.