The Betta Ehrenfeld Public Policy Forum is an annual event hosted by the Center to highlight the principles that guided the life and work of Frances Perkins and to apply those principles to today’s economic and social problems. The event is named in honor of Betta Ehrenfeld, whose generosity has enable the Center to grow and thrive in its formative years.
On Saturday September 23 Bowdoin College’s Pickard Theater was the setting for this year’s Frances Perkins Center Betta Ehrenfeld Public Policy Forum. The forum featured a spirited conversation between New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer, and Bill Nemitz, news columnist for the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram and was introduced by Janet M. Martin, Professor of Government and Legal Studies and Michael Chaney, Executive Director of the Frances Perkins Center who thanked the John C. Donovan Lecture Fund and Betta Ehrenfeld for making the event possible.
Jane Mayer took the stage greeted by an outpouring of appreciative applause even before she began to speak. She said, “I am incredibly honored to even have my name in the same sentence with that of Frances Perkins, we’re not in the same league but it’s wonderful to be in such great company and the company of all of you [the audience].” Mayer was presented the 2017 Intelligence & Courage award for her efforts “to make transparent for an informed public the profoundly corrupting role of such money in our politics,” from Frances Perkins Center board chair Dr. Christopher Breiseth.
The six hundred people in attendance were treated to an engaging exchange between the two journalists as they discussed Mayer’s experience researching and writing her New York Times best-selling book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right that her website says:” illuminates the history of an elite cadre of plutocrats—headed by the Kochs, the Scaifes, the Olins, and the Bradleys—who have bankrolled a systematic plan to fundamentally alter the American political system.”
Mayer discussed the history of the four Koch brothers, and the challenges she faced while “following the money” to understand their methodical organization and the tactics they use to influence policy and elections. Prompted by Nemitz’s probing questions, she told of attacks on her journalistic integrity and on false accusations of plagiarism made against her that could have destroyed her career. While the topics were weighty the forum was not without humor, as Nemitz prompted Mayer to describe the Koch brothers sibling rivalries and upbringing by an actual Nazi Nanny. After an hour that went by all too quickly Mayer answered audience questions followed by a book signing and reception in Memorial Hall.
The Betta Ehrenfeld Public Policy Forum is an annual event hosted by the Frances Perkins Center to highlight the principles that guided the life and work of Frances Perkins and apply those principles to today’s economic and social problems. The Center was incorporated in Newcastle, Maine, in 2009 to honor its namesake and to fulﬁll her legacy by continuing her work for social justice and economic security and preserving for future generations her nationally significant family homestead. The Center inspires people to address current economic and social problems as Perkins would, through work in the areas of education, outreach, and advocacy. The nonproﬁt, nonpartisan Center is currently headquartered in downtown Damariscotta, Maine, where it offers an interpretive exhibit on the life and achievements of Frances Perkins. The Center seeks to acquire and preserve the place Perkins called home–her family homestead on the Damariscotta River in Newcastle.
Jane Mayer, author of Dark Money, was presented with the 2017 Frances Perkins Center Intelligence & Courage Award at the Betta Ehrenfeld Public Policy Forum held at Bowdoin College September 23, 2017. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (2016) is an electrifying work of investigative journalism that uncovers the powerful group of immensely wealthy ideologues who are shaping the fate of America. Why is America living in an age of profound and widening economic inequality? Why have even modest attempts to address climate change been defeated again and again? Why do hedge-fund billionaires pay a far lower tax rate than middle- class workers? In a riveting and indelible feat of reporting, Jane Mayer illuminates the history of an elite cadre of plutocrats—headed by the Kochs, the Scaifes, the Olins, and the Bradleys—who have bankrolled a systematic plan to fundamentally alter the American political system.
On Tuesday, July 12, 2016 the Frances Perkins Center hosted the third annual Betta Ehrenfeld Public Policy forum in Darrows Barn at DRA’s Round Top Farm in Damariscotta, Maine at 4p.m.
Nation On the Take: How Big Money Corrupts our Democracy and What We Can Do About It.
In this presidential election year, the nation faces a crisis of confidence in our democracy. This summer, the Betta Ehrenfeld Public Policy Forum featured William Leuchtenburg, William Rand Kenan Jr. professor emeritus of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Nick Penniman, co-author with Wendell Potter of Nation on the Take: How Big Money Corrupts our Democracy and What We Can Do About It. The forum included an interactive discussion about the extent to which dark money has permeated our government and an exploration of constructive suggestions about what we as ordinary citizens can do about it, moderated by John Rauh of New Castle, New Hampshire, a businessman, former candidate for U. S. Senate and founder of Americans for Campaign Reform, an organization advocating for public financing of federal campaigns.
Professor Leuchtenburg is the pre-eminent scholar of the New Deal and the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He has written over two dozen books on twentieth-century American history, his most recent The American President: From Teddy Roosevelt to Bill Clinton (Oxford University Press, 2015). Professor Leuchtenburg described how big money came to invade our political campaigns and our government.
Nick Penniman is a journalist and the executive director of Issue One, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit whose mission is to reduce the influence of money in politics. Moyers and Company’s Michael Winship calls Nation on the Take “a stunning indictment of the corrosive influence of money in politics.” The New York Journal of Books states, “Nation on the Take is breathtaking in the level of detail for Washington K Street transgressions and the national landscape of politics and money. If you are still on the sidelines for your personal campaign to restore our democracy, this book will incite a riot in your conscience and illustrate some things we as a people can do to take back our country. This book is no less than a clarion call to the American people to rise up and release these ties that bind.”
Frances Perkins devoted her life and work to social justice and economic security for all. The Frances Perkins Center continues to call attention to her enduring legacy through the annual Ehrenfeld Public Policy Forum.
On Thursday July 23, 2015 the Frances Perkins Center hosted the second annual Betta Ehrenfeld Public Policy forum at the Strand Theater in Rockland, Maine from 4-5:30 p.m. The topic was The Demise of the American Middle Class: Is it real? Is it reversible? Is it inevitable?
Speakers included Dr. Jeff Faux, Distinguished Fellow, Economic Policy Institute. Author of, The Servant Economy: Where America’s Elite is Sending the Middle Class, he is the principal founder of the Economic Policy Institute. He served as EPI’s president from 1985-2002. And Dr. Lawrence Mishel, President, Economic Policy Institute, co-author The State of Working America, a book that former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich says “remains unrivaled as the most-trusted source for a comprehensive understanding of how working Americans and their families are faring in today’s economy.”
Senator Roger Katz, Program Moderator, is currently serving his third term in the Maine State Senate. Prior to his legislative service, Senator Katz was Mayor of Augusta for two terms.
Katz is currently one of two Republican Senators on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, which is responsible for drafting the state’s budget. He also serves as Chair of the
Government Oversight Committee.
On July 14, 2014, Former Congressman Barney Frank spoke at the inaugural Betta Ehrenfeld Public Policy Forum from 6:00 – 8:00 PM at the Coleman Burke Event Gallery at Fort Andross, 14 Maine Street, Brunswick, Maine. At the event he received the Center’s Intelligence and Courage Award.