- Jun 25, 2009
For two years, we were on opposite sides of a historic election, serving as general counsels to the Obama and McCain presidential campaigns. Our experiences led us to an inescapable conclusion: Bringing our voter registration system into the 21st century must be the priority for improving the election process.
The follwing opinion piece was published in The Washington Post on June 25, 2009.
- May 11, 2010
On May 11, 2010, Campaign Legal Center President Trevor Potter testified before the Committee on House Administration regarding the legislative response to the Supreme Court’s activist ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. Potter discussed the DISCLOSE Act and offered suggestions for modifying the legislative language in anticipation of inevitable court challenges.
- Jun 22, 2010
Opponents have insistently but unfairly maintained that the DISCLOSE Act favors unions over corporations. In fact, both are treated equally
For a Small Amount of Doctrinal Gain, the Citizens United Majority Produced a Maximum Amount of PainOct 28, 2010
On reflection, the doctrinal shift in Citizens United was not as enormous as first thought--the Court really only moved from substantial First Amendment rights for corporations to unlimited rights. However, the snowball effect has been larger than the majority may have expected, especially because of FEC sabotage of the Court's disclosure expectations. Just ask the people of Colorado or Nevada or other battleground states what the practical applications have meant.
- Mar 18, 2011
There is significant irony that deregulators, many at secretly funded entities, are battling to hide the sources of campaign spending at the very time that the tea party and other citizen activists are complaining that Congress is spending too much money and paying insufficient attention to their demands for lower levels of government spending.
The follwing opinion piece was published Politico's Arena on March 18, 2011.
- May 25, 2011Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has been had. "A campaign finance system that pairs corporate independent expenditures with effective disclosure has not existed before today," he confidently wrote in his majority opinion in Citizens United, the Court’s 2010 decision that freed corporations, unions and others to spend unlimited sums on electioneering.
- Oct 21, 2011
Yesterday, Campaign Legal Center President Trevor Potter delivered the keynote address at the “Symposium on Corporate Political Spending” hosted by The Conference Board in New York. Potter offered the audience a century’s worth of historical perspective, and decades of his own experience in the field
- Dec 2, 2011
On December 2, 2011, Campaign Legal Center President Trevor Potter addressed the current state of affairs of our federal campaign finance system in a speech in Austin before the Professional Advocacy Association of Texas. The remarks recount the series of actions that brought us to where we are today and chart a path toward a remedy for a system veering toward election-by-auction.
- Dec 19, 2011
On December 2, 2011, Campaign Legal Center President Trevor Potter addressed the current state of affairs of our federal campaign finance system in a speech in Austin before the Professional Advocacy Association of Texas. The remarks recount the series of actions that brought us to where we are today and chart a path toward a remedy for a system veering toward election-by-auction. The text of the speech follow below.
I’m glad that my work as the lawyer for Stephen Colbert’s Super PAC makes introductions so easy: you can just show some of the clips of me giving legal advice on air! As that video illustrated, though, even the communications genius of Stephen Colbert cannot always make the legal intricacies of Super PACs easy. So, let me start by summarizing how we got to where we are today.
- Apr 16, 2012The Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United allowed them. Political candidates rely on them. And Stephen Colbert parodies them. But as a former chair of the Federal Election Commission and the lawyer behind Colbert’s super PAC — Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow — I find that most people don’t understand the role that these largely unaccountable organizations play in American politics. As the GOP primary race draws to a close, let’s take a look at some common misconceptions about groups powerful enough to evade traditional limits with a single bound.
- May 23, 2012
Remarks by CLC President Trevor Potter at the The American Law Institute's 89th Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., May 23, 2012.
I am often asked how, after 25 years as an election lawyer, service as an FEC Commissioner, and General Counsel to 2 presidential campaigns, did you end up as Stephen Colbert’s lawyer on late night TV. The answer is “I was lucky…”
To read the full remarks, click here.
To view video footage of the speech, click here.
- Nov 19, 2012
Don’t blame Citizens United for the worst excesses of this year’s election.
Instead, look to the failures of the Federal Election Commission.
- Jan 8, 2013
It is difficult to overstate the impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the 5-4 majority, overturned or ignored the Court’s own precedents and federal, state, and local statutes that had been in place for more than 60 years. The immediate impact of Citizens United and subsequent cases was a dramatic increase in the amount that outside groups (both super PACs and certain nonprofit organizations) could raise and spend in federal elections. Given Citizen United’s exceedingly narrow definition of “corruption,” and its broad statements dismissing the concerns of those who believe that unlimited spending by well-financed interests is potentially corrupting, reformers are correct to worry about what other federal and state campaign finance laws may be invalidated in the future.
- Apr 18, 2013
Bipartisan agreements seem possible on immigration and perhaps even on guns. Could election reform be next? Is there an opportunity to move past the partisan rancor of the voting wars and modernize America's out-of-date election system?
We all know it needs improvement. Long lines on Election Day are only the most visible symptom, as some voters from Florida to Virginia to Ohio waited up to seven hours to make their voice heard in last year's election. The culprit often turns out to be the old-fashioned, paper-based registration system used across the country.
- May 1, 2013
Four decades after the campaign finance reforms that followed Watergate, arguments over the role of money in politics seem increasingly tired and unproductive. We ought to build on the experience of recent years and consider what’s necessary for a new phase of political reform.
Reforms appear destined to fail unless they rest on three key points: They should focus not on further restricting funding for political activity but rather on broadening avenues of citizen participation; they should look beyond contributions to parties and candidates to take into account other ways that money influences politics, including through the intersection of lobbying and political funding; and they should be informed by the experiences of states and localities.
- Jul 18, 2013
After the elevated philosophical thoughts of Michael Sandel and David Brooks the last two mornings, I am afraid I am going to lower the tone and be crass and talk about Money---and not just any money, but Money in Politics.
Trevor Potter's Opening Remarks on McCutcheon v. FEC at the National Press Club's Newsmaker Event, October 1, 2013Oct 1, 2013
Remarks by CLC President Trevor Potter at the National Press Club's Newsmaker Event, October 1, 2013.
While there has been much jurisprudential movement at the Supreme Court over the last five years in campaign finance cases, that movement has centered onindependent expenditures—money spent by individuals, corporations, unions, and other groups to speak independently of candidates.
To read the full remarks, click here.
- Oct 2, 2013
Those who have been following the Supreme Court case, McCutcheon v. FEC, know that it is a challenge to the $123,200 federal limit on how much an individual can give, in aggregate, to candidates, political parties and PACs in a single election cycle. What they may not realize, however, is that the plaintiffs and some of the amici curiae who filed in their support—in particular Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has requested and received time to participate in the oral argument next week—have also made an even more extreme request of the Supreme Court: namely, that the Court overturn the key legal principle that the “standard of review” (what the government has to show to justify regulation) is different for limits on campaign contributions than limits on campaign expenditures.
- Oct 3, 2013
Several readers have asked for additional explanation of the practical effects of applying “strict scrutiny” to judicial review of contribution limitations, first discussed in yesterday’s blog “The Grenade in the McCutcheon briefs.”
- Oct 15, 2013
At one point during the oral argument Tuesday in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, Justice Antonin Scalia remarked that he didn’t understand the legislation in question.
“This campaign finance law is so intricate that I can’t figure it out,” he said. “It might have been nice to have the, you know, the lower court tell me what the law is.”
- Apr 22, 2014
Lecture by CLC President Trevor Potter to the Wilson School of Public & International Affairs at Princeton University, April 22, 2014.
- May 1, 2014
On April 30, Trevor Potter testified at a Senate Rules Committee hearing, “Dollars and Sense: How Undisclosed Money and Post-McCutcheon Campaign Finance Will Affect the 2014 Elections and Beyond.”
The hearing was chaired by Sen. Angus King (I-ME). Other witnesses included retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, Federal Election Commission Vice Chair Ann Ravel and the American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein.
To read Potter’s full written testimony, click here.
To read the testimony of all witnesses, click here.
To watch the full hearing on C-SPAN, click here.
- Jun 2, 2014
On June 2nd, Trevor Potter delivered a speech at the Citizens Congress 2014: Restoring Equality in Our Democracy in San Luis Obispo, California. Potter criticizes not only the amount of money spent in federal campaigns, but also where the money comes from and how it is raised. Potter also proposes a system with full participation, with solutions to some of the problems in the current broken system.
- Jun 3, 2014
On this month's edition of Washington Watch, Congressman Walter B. Jones is joined by Trevor Potter, the founding president and general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. Congressman Jones and Mr. Potter discuss the role of money in politics and potential avenues of reform to the current campaign finance system.
- Jul 22, 2014
Last year was the 10th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in McConnell v. FEC (in large part upholding the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 or McCain-Feingold as it’s commonly known). The Court’s recent decision inMcCutcheon v. FEC (invalidating federal aggregate contribution limits), has brought a wave of commentary evaluating the shortcomings of our campaign finance system, and much of this commentary has blamed the McCain-Feingold law for creating many of these problems. The 10 year anniversary of McConnell, and this year’s McCutcheon decision, certainly provide a good moment to take stock of the legacy of McCain-Feingold, and to evaluate the state of the federal campaign finance system as a whole...
Speech: Keynote Address at the California Fair Political Practices Commission 40th Anniversary EventSep 17, 2014
This year marks a milestone anniversary for the FPPC and California and for the nation. Forty years ago the nation experienced the end of the Watergate scandal with Richard Nixon’s resignation from the Presidency. The public outrage over the unethical and illegal conduct uncovered in the Watergate investigation resulted in the enactment of reforms at both the federal and state levels. The FPPC and its federal counterpart—the Federal Election Commission (FEC), also created in 1974—were a direct response to the nation’s recognition of the corrosive danger of large, or undisclosed, sums of money in politics...
To read the full text of the speech, click here.
California’s FPPC Provides Example for Dysfunctional Federal Agencies to Follow - Trevor Potter’s 40th Anniversary Keynote AddressSep 19, 2014
On September 17th, Trevor Potter delivered the keynote address at the 40th anniversary of California’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). Potter praised the outstanding work of the FPPC and compared it to its dysfunctional federal cousin, the Federal Election Commission – also created 40 years ago in the wake of Watergate. Potter reviewed how we arrived in this Wild West era of campaign finance and suggested ways to fix it and restore the public’s faith in its elected officials.
"Money Talks: Free Speech, Political Action Committees and the Future of Campaign Finance Regulation" with Trevor PotterNov 3, 2014
Campaign Finance Regulation Panelists talked about the complexities and transparency issues associated with campaign financing. They focused on outside funding of campaigns since the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Other topics included the Federal Election Commission (FEC) appointee process.
- Nov 3, 2014
Imagine you win a big verdict at trial. But then, when the decision is appealed, you find out the judges who will be hearing your appeal took contributions for their campaigns from your opponents in the lawsuit...
- Dec 16, 2014
When I speak at law schools, I am always asked about the Colbert Super PAC “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow” and its sibling 501(c)(4), “Colbert Super PAC Shhh.” Almost every time, someone asks, “How did you and Stephen Colbert plan the story line of his coverage of money in politics?”
- Dec 31, 2014
Bill Moyers’ wrapped up 2014 in Money & Politics with a half-dozen brief commentaries from experts on the “Most Undercovered Stories” of the year...
- Dec 31, 2014
Bill Moyers’ wrapped up 2014 in Money & Politics with a half-dozen brief commentaries from experts on the “Most Undercovered Stories” of the year...
- Jan 21, 2015
The national elections since the U.S. Supreme Court decided Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission — two midterms and one presidential — demonstrate a gaping disconnect between the justices’ reasoning in the opinion and the reality of how campaigns operate...
- Jan 21, 2015
It’s been five years since the Supreme Court handed down its Citizens United decision. The ruling gave rise to a complicated mess of super PACs, dark money, and “coordinated non-coordinated expenditures” — a world that likely surprised even the Supreme Court...
The Diane Rehm Show: Paralysis At The Federal Election Commission And What Can Be Done About It with Trevor PotterMay 5, 2015
Election finance experts predict the 2016 presidential race could see a record $10 billion in campaign spending. Much of the growth in spending is coming from outside groups untethered by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. But the head of the Federal Election Commission, tasked with keeping watch over campaign finance, says the agency is in a state of extreme dysfunction. She fears the FEC won’t be able to curb 2016 abuses. Many Republicans say the concerns are exaggerated. We explore the role of the FEC and what changes – if any – are needed.
Charles Fried and Trevor Potter Respond to Wall Street Journal Editorial Attacking CLC’s Work (The Wall Street Journal)Jun 16, 2015
On June 9, The Wall Street Journal editorial board criticized the work of the Campaign Legal Center in trying to ensure that the appropriate agencies enforce federal campaign finance laws. Charles Fried, former Solicitor General under Ronald Reagan and current CLC board member, and Trevor Potter, CLC President, responded with letters to the editor correcting the editorial board’s mischaracterization of CLC and mis-statement of the law.
- Jul 8, 2015
Speech by CLC President Trevor Potter to the Public Policy Forum of Crested Butte, July 8, 2015
- Jul 8, 2015
With Outside/In host Roger Kahn, Trevor Potter discussed his Policy Policy Forum discussion titled: "The Money In Politics Disaster: Where Do We Go From Here?"
- Oct 26, 2015
On October 9, 2015, CLC President and General Counsel Trevor Potter addressed Harvard Law School students and faculty as part of a lecture and discussion series on election law.
- Oct 30, 2015
On October 28, 2015, CLC President Trevor Potter addressed Independent Sector's 2015 National Conference in Miami, Florida. His remarks - "The Money in Politics Disaster" - were delivered as part of the conference's “Red, White, and on the Brink” plenary session.
To read "The Money in Politics Disaster", click here.
Trevor Potter's Remarks at Harvard Law School: "Legal Rubble: Money and Politics in the Age of Citizens United"Nov 2, 2015
"I need to describe what I see as the four basic failures of the Citizens United decision—failures of understanding and imagination. These result in the collision of abstract legal theory with reality. This is a collision that a Court more familiar with political practices, administrative process, and the difficulties of legislating might have predicted and avoided."
On October 9, 2015, CLC President and General Counsel Trevor Potter addressed Harvard Law School students and faculty as part of a series on election law. Click here to watch a recording of the lecture and subsequent discussion.
The Money in Politics Disaster - Video of Trevor Potter's Remarks at the Independent Sector Annual ConferenceNov 6, 2015
"We are at a point in American history where our political process is characterized by division, disagreement and polarization. In these circumstances, it’s easy to believe that there are few, if any, political issues left on which an overwhelming number of Americans — both Republicans and Democrats — agree. In fact, this is not the case: a Bloomberg poll conducted only last month found that on one of the country’s most pressing problems, there’s unrivaled bipartisan consensus. On what issue can 80 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats find common ground? Believe it or not, the answer is money in politics!
On October 28, 2015, CLC President and General Counsel Trevor Potter delivered the following remarks at the Independent Sector Annual Conference, as part of the "Red, White, and on the Brink" plenary session. Click here to watch a recording of the address and plenary session.
- Jan 11, 2016
Last month, as politicos and policy wonks awaited the outcome of Congress' back room budget negotiations, rumors swirled around Washington over which last minute riders would make it into the final omnibus bill. Particularly troubling to many was a provision pushed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, D-Nev., that enabled party committees to spend unlimited sums in coordination with their candidates. This proposal would have put yet more pressure on office holders to raise money to pay for such spending. The proposal — which drew condemnation from liberal Democrats and Tea Party Republicans alike — was ultimately defeated, as were similar measures to end the presidential public financing "check off" system and block the president from issuing an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending. Even so, while these provisions may not have become law, anti-reform congressional leaders were still able to include riders banning the IRS from clarifying its regulations on dark money groups and preventing the SEC from requiring corporations to inform their shareholders whether their money is being spent on political causes.
- Apr 11, 2016
The 2016 presidential election is on track to becoming the most expensive campaign in U.S. history. But the the Federal Election Commission, charged with regulating how that campaign money is raised and spent, may be the least understood and most ineffective agency of them all.
On the latest DecodeDC podcast, host Jimmy Williams sits down with three people who have all been part of the FEC. They explain that from the start, the agency had a built-in partisan divide that made decision making difficult.
CLC President Trevor Potter talks about the gridlock of FEC Commissioners and how they are beholden to the party leaders that chose them. Potter also mentions the move of a partisan divide to an ideological divide between the Commissioners.
- May 5, 2016
Trevor Potter was the commentator and moderator at the Plutocrats United event hosted by CLC and cosponsored by ACS and UCDC law, Professor Richard L. Hasen gave a presetation on his book Plutocrats United: Campaign Money, the Supreme Court, and the Distortion of American Elections, followed by a Q&A discussion between Trevor and Rick.
- May 17, 2016
Andrew Cockburn’s analysis of the “election-industrial complex” [“Down the Tube,” Letter from Washington, April] argues, correctly, that the rise of super PACs has created a class of consultants paid handsomely to produce TV ads — often with no impact on election results. But we can’t lose sight of the many other ways in which big money influences candidates and corrupts our political system.
- Jul 5, 2016
Photo by Sarah Holm/The Chautauquan Daily
On July 4th, 2016, CLC President Trevor Potter delivered this speech at The Chautauqua Institution, a non-profit organization. It is a historic lakeside community dedicated to the exploration of the best in human values and the enrichment of life.
- Nov 1, 2016
On November 1, 2016, CLC President Trevor Potter delivered this speech at the College of Charleston's Annual Political Science Convocation regarding the issues of big money in politics.
- Nov 7, 2016
Anyone looking at the 2016 presidential election can see American democracy is in trouble.
The public is feeling the direct impact of a broken campaign finance system. As many as 80 percent of voters believe the federal government – and the entire U.S. political system – is out of touch with the average citizens it is meant to represent.
Given the challenges at the federal level, the momentum for democracy reform is now in the states, from the grassroots level. Democracy reformers are taking steps to adopt new policies and proposals that would counter the corrupting power of money in state and local governments.
How President Trump could use the White House to enrich himself and his family (The Washington Post)Nov 18, 2016
For the past 40 years, every president has placed his personal investments and assets in a blind trust while in the White House, or has sold everything and held cash equivalents. President-elect Donald Trump has made it clear that he does not plan to set up such a trust, which would require that his company be run by an outsider who has had no previous business relationship with Trump, and that there be virtually no communication between the outside trustee and Trump or his family during his administration.
- Dec 20, 2016
"By definition, it's a conflict of interest," says Trevor Potter, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and current president of the Campaign Legal Center, a government ethics watchdog group.
- Jan 11, 2017
There is a good reason that the Justice Department has always taken the position that presidents should abide by the provisions of the Ethics in Government Act, even though they are exempted from it for constitutional reasons: Doing that saves the president and his administration a lot of potential troubles.
Money, Politics, and the Crippling of the FEC: A symposium on the Federal Election Commission's arguable inability to effectively regulate money in American elections.Apr 3, 2017
On March 23, 2017, CLC President Trevor Potter delivered this speech at a symposium held at the Washington College of Law at American University and the Administrative Law Review. Read excerpts and the full speech below.
- May 4, 2017
Today President Trump signed an executive order addressing political spending by religious organizations. The order was not as broad as predicted. Instead of easing restrictions on political spending, it allows the IRS to continue to enforce the current restrictions, but prohibits those restrictions from being expanded.
Still, a potential repeal of this law is on the table, as Congress also took the issue up this morning.
For 63 years, Congress has barred entities organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code — which includes the entire charitable sector, as well as churches, mosques, and synagogues — from engaging in partisan political activities.
- May 11, 2017
On May 11, 2017, Trevor Potter delivered a speech at Lake Forest College in Illinois on money in politics issues surrounding the past election and Trump administration.
- Jun 19, 2017
It is often said that too much of anything can be bad for one’s health. If there is any indication from today's decision by the Supreme Court to hear arguments about the threat of partisan gerrymandering to the health of our democracy, politicians on both sides of the aisle should be worried about their growing and excessive use of this practice as a political weapon of choice to maintain political power at the expense of voters.
- Sep 12, 2017
On September 12, 2017, CLC President Trevor Potter appeared on a panel at the USC Unruh Institute of Politics on potential electoral reform, including the redistricting, and voting rights.
- Oct 12, 2017
On October 12, 2017, CLC convened a conference examining foreign interference in U.S. Elections. This panel discussed was that foreign interference must be addresed with a multi-discipline perspective.
- Oct 12, 2017
On October 12, 2017, CLC convened a conference examining foreign interference in U.S. Elections. The conference was kicked off with a speech from CLC President, Trevor Potter. The first panel focused on the 2016 elections and was moderated by CLC Senior Director of Strategic Communications, Sandhya Bathija.
- Oct 26, 2017
Corporate PAC contributions gave 99 percent of their federal contributions to congressional candidates in 2016. Controlled by the corporations which establish them, corporate PACs actually reported giving federal candidates over $180 million in 2016—more than 40 percent of PAC spending that year.
- Nov 1, 2017
Trevor Potter, President of the Campaign Legal Center, wrote an Op-Ed for The Hill in support of the Honest Ads Act and enhanced disclosure.
- Nov 1, 2017
At a reception marking CLC's 15 years of advancing democracy President Trevor Potter delivered the following remarks.
- Jan 24, 2018
Federal elections are the pillar of our national democracy, and the decennial census is the foundation for those elections and assuring that every person is counted accurately and has fair political representation. That makes the responsibility of the Census Bureau to carry out an accurate and fair census a critical charge. Everything from how we are represented in Congress to community resources for our schools, hospitals, and assistance to veterans depends on reliable and accurate census data. Unfortunately, as our country moves along a shrinking timeline for executing the 2020 census, serious legal concerns are emerging regarding how the Trump administration views Census Bureau leadership. We applaud the letter recently sent by eight leading legal advocacy organizations to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, urging him to ensure a lawful and transparent process for filling leadership vacancies at this vital agency. We echo concerns set out in the letter that the administration’s apparent approach would flout the will of Congress by disregarding federal law and circumventing the Senate’s role in providing advice and consent for a Census Bureau director.
- Feb 2, 2018
On February 2, 2018, Trevor Potter, CLC President, was interviewed by Jennifer Lawrence in regards to private interests in today's politics.
- Mar 6, 2018
The FEC has done nothing to address the tremendous and fundamental changes to our campaign system in recent years, from the rise of super PACs to new threats posed by untraceable money in online ads. The FEC has completely abdicated its responsibility to police super PACs and dark money groups like 501(c)(4)s, refusing to enforce current rules or put in place new rules to regulate their conduct.
The Hill: The Supreme Court must step in: Both major parties are testing American democracy by gerrymanderingMar 28, 2018
Partisan gerrymandering has recently grown far more acute and brazen. This has occurred because of a new strategy to manipulate the entire state delegation, rather than just helping or hurting individual friends or foes; and computer technology advances that let officials precisely manipulate district lines to guarantee one party or another protracted dominance of the delegation, notwithstanding the popular vote. According to University of Chicago Law Professor Nick Stephanopoulos, four of the five most partisan state legislative maps in the last 45 years were drawn since 2010, as were seven of the 10 most partisan state congressional maps. Americans know it's getting worse, because it is. On Wednesday, March 28 the Supreme Court will hear – for a second time this term – a case challenging the constitutionality of egregious partisan "bulk" gerrymandering, in this case by Democrats in Maryland.
- Apr 10, 2018
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will testify before Congress this week about his global social media platform and security of the user data it collects, after bipartisan calls in the House and Senate for him to do so. This is a meaningful first step in the direction of transparency, but it does not address the issue of foreign interference in our elections.
- May 1, 2018
On May 1, 2018, Trevor Potter delivered a speech to the Albuquerque Bar Association on the failure of the separation of powers in campaign finance law.
- May 4, 2018
On May 4, 2018, the Washington Post published an op-ed by Trevor Potter, CLC President, in regards to the campaign finance implications of the NDA between President Trump and Stormy Daniels.