As part of International Women’s day celebration, we interviewed Ann Ravel, Professor at University of California, Berkeley – School of Law, and Fellow at New America, where she works on Civic Engagement. She is also former Federal Election Commission chair and talked to BayBrazil about her experience at the Federal Administration, political campaign financing, social media regulation, and gender equality.
She has a Brazilian mother and told us to be proud of having Brazil in her blood. So, we are proud to call her BayBrazilian.
BayBrazil: You were nominated to the Federal Election Commission by President Barack Obama and then became the Chair. Tell us about that experience.
Ann: I have to admit it was a very exciting moment when I received the call from the White House telling me that they just talked to President Obama and he wanted to nominate me to the FEC. I had not expected to be confirmed by the Senate, though, as I had pursued a very significant case all the way to the California Supreme Court about a Dark Money contribution, and had won. So I assumed that I would be a controversial figure, and I was happy in the position I held in California.
BayBrazil: Political campaign finance is not an exclusive issue of the U.S. Many other countries face similar challenges, including Brazil where corporate donations were at the center of recent political scandals. Have you seen an ideal system around the world in which money has less influence in politics?
Ann: Most countries have concerns about the effect of corporate and wealthy interests having too much influence in policy decisions due to campaign finance contributions. Some countries have limits on contributions and also on spending in elections. They are Chile, Belgium, Canada, France, and Greece, Israel, and Japan, to name a few. However, they report circumvention of the rules.
BayBrazil: Technology and social media set up new possibilities in election ads. At this point, with lack of legal regulation and platforms not so prepared to deal with it, do you think it brought some damage on elections influence and risk to democracy?
Ann: I believe that the use of social media to spread disinformation that is actually political propaganda meant to undermine faith in government institutions, sow divineness in the country, and support certain candidates is the biggest threat to democracy that we have ever seen.
BayBrazil: Innovation is faster than regulation, compromising not only politics but finance, ethics and so on. Is there a way to minimize this issue without blocking innovation?
Ann: The innovation of the internet is admirable and no one wishes to interfere with tools that are making our lives better and bringing people together. But when the internet platforms have business models that are about advertising which impair the basic tenets of democracy, and allow and encourage by their algorithms foreign actors and others to micro-target, and spread falsehoods, hatred and propaganda anonymously in order to undermine the electoral process, then laws must protect the people of this country from the effects of these business models. Internet companies cannot be exempt from the same rules enacted to protect electoral integrity that apply to other advertisers.
BayBrazil: We have a long path to gender equality in government and politics; women are far underrepresented. How to attract more women into politics? Where does the U.S. stand versus other regions?
Ann: The United States is, sadly, quite low compared to other countries in the number of women in elected office. Latin America has had 5 women Presidents, and the US has had none. Some of this is related to the fact that other countries have quotas requiring a certain percentage of women on the ballot (Argentina was the first country to require this). The highest ranked countries with 50% women in political office, all of which have quotas, are Rwanda, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland.
BayBrazil: In this International Women’s Day, what is your main message to young women planning to pursue a career in politics?
Ann: I encourage women to run for office. Women’s perspective is so important in policy making. I often think about the first version of the Affordable Care Act. Written by only men, it had no provision for birth control. But not just only so called women’s issues, women have an equal and important role on society. Politics is a very significant way to make policy and women should be full participants in guiding the direction of our local, state and federal governments. Women should not worry that they are too young or inexperienced to run, or that they have to start at the local less influential offices and pay their dues. Sometimes this is the case, but it isn’t universal. Good candidates succeed. And, don’t decide not to run because you don’t like to ask for money for your campaign. It is not for you – it’s because of your ideas and what you want to accomplish.
BayBrazil: Tell us about your connections to Brazil and how it was to grow up between two cultures.
Ann: My mother was born in Araçatuba, Brazil, and lived in Brazil until she married my father. She had 3 sisters, and most of my cousins live in Brazil. We are very close, and I visit often. I have always felt…it is Brazil that is home. America is my citizenship, my work, my allegiance. But Brazil is warmth.
I also have an adopted son who was born in Curitiba, and he married a Carioca. My grandchildren speak Portuguese! So the culture continues.
I remember vividly going to Rio when I was about 6 years old…being picked up by an aunt in an open car, driving along the bay singing Cidade Maravilhosa…and realizing that this was not only family but happiness. I’ve always been so proud of having Brazil in my blood.
My strongest memory of growing up between two cultures was when I was in college and a bit of a hippie. Many times my mother told me, after coming back from visiting my perfect and well groomed Brazilian cousins, that she wished she had raised me in Brazil and I wouldn’t have turned out the way I did.
BayBrazil: Ann Ravel will speak about women in politics at our March 15 event at Box.