By Hadley Christman
Rachel Curley is the democracy associate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. Curley joined Public Citizen in 2016 after spending nearly three years as program coordinator for Doctors for America. After graduating from Indiana University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and philosophy, Curley moved to Washington, D.C., and accepted an internship at the Center for American Progress as an executive intern, while also working part-time in retail. In college, she was the news director for WUIX Student Radio as well as an executive board member for an international dance organization called Movement Exchange. When she’s not at Public Citizen, Curley enjoys eating (but not cooking) good food, watching old musicals, visiting D.C. museums, attending spin, yoga and dance classes, and getting out of town and into nature.
Please tell us about your role at Public Citizen.
Curley: My main focus is on requiring publicly held companies to disclose information about the money they spend to influence our politics. This includes pushing the mutual fund giant Vanguard to use its enormous corporate voting power to support shareholder proposals on political spending and lobbying disclosure. However, as my title suggests, I support most of Public Citizen’s democracy work, particularly with respect to federal legislation.
What about Public Citizen appealed to you?
Curley: The core mission of the organization appealed to me the most – pushing back against the outsized influence of corporations in our democracy. Before joining the organization, I had heard Public Citizen touted as a leader in the money in politics space, so the position seemed like a perfect fit for my interests.
Have you always known you wanted to be in this line of work?
Curley: When I was a kid I wanted to be either a mermaid or a pop star. Then, toward the end of high school and into college, I gained the awareness, as many young people do, that the world is not an inherently fair place and it is necessary for people to fight for what is right. Once equipped with this awareness, I knew I wanted to focus my career on fighting the good fight and rooting out the corruption that contributes to so much of the injustice in our world.
What issues are you particularly passionate about?
Curley: I’m passionate about getting big money out of politics because it is clear to me that until we do that it will be hard to make progress on other issues. Once we restore the balance to our democracy (which I’m optimistic we can do!) I am interested in pivoting to working on policies that build more sustainable food and fashion industries.
Why did you choose to study both philosophy and political science?
Curley: Indiana University offered a combined major in political science and philosophy that appealed to me because I saw it as an opportunity to combine the mental workout of philosophy classes with the practical lessons provided in political science classes.
What prompted you to move on from Doctors for America to Public Citizen? Were you there because at one point you considered a career in medicine?
Curley: I’ve always been too squeamish to ever consider becoming a doctor, but I am concerned about how hard it is becoming for ordinary Americans to afford comprehensive health care. I started at Doctors For America just before the first open enrollment period in Obamacare, and it was very powerful to be a part of implementing that game-changing law. However, working on health care only solidified my interest in working on money in politics issues as I saw the influence that the health care industry has over our health care policy decisions.
What is the best part about being with Public Citizen?
Curley: I appreciate the freedom that our organization allows advocates to really dig deep into an issue and test out new and creative campaign tactics. As an employee, that level of trust is powerful and encourages me to never give up on trying new ways to make progress on a specific issue or campaign.