Appearances, Publications & Speeches
- 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.
- 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 Is there an opportunity to move past the partisan rancor of the voting wars and modernize America's out-of-date election system?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.
- Mar 19, 2013
Not surprisingly, the Office of Congressional Ethics is under attack yet again. The office, which helped bring some accountability and transparency to the House ethics process, has not been popular since its creation. This time the offensive is coming from a group of defense attorneys who represent members of Congress and their staffs against allegations of ethics violations.
It is also not surprising to see high-dollar, white-collar defense attorneys pressing for advantages for their clients. They see an advantage in creating at the OCE the kind of adversarial process where they excel. The changes they are seeking are designed to give their clients an undue advantage in an ethics investigation: the right to see reports before they are made public, access to all the evidence that’s favorable to the member of Congress, and a “heads up” before the OCE asks the member of Congress for information and documents.
- 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.
- 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.
- Nov 15, 2012
The airwaves and the newspapers have been peppered with reports belittling the impact of outside groups on the 2012 election. Many have taken it a step further and concluded that super-PACs and “dark money” groups — the groups that don’t disclose their donors — are not the threat to our democracy that many had feared. That is where they are wrong.
Outside groups spent $1 billion dollars on the 2012 election, with $400 million of that coming from “dark money” groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In one Senate race alone, Virginia, outside groups pumped in $37 million; the candidates themselves, by contrast, spent $30 million.
- Oct 18, 2012
“One person, one vote” is a bedrock of our democracy. From the beginning, this nation explicitly rejected the plutocracy the Founding Fathers knew so well. That each citizen’s vote counts the same as any other citizen’s—regardless of wealth or social status—remains an ideal that continues to inspire around the world, even when we fall short.
- Oct 17, 2012
The new issue of the Rutgers Law Review takes a close at the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in a year when the Supreme Court is expected to revisit the landmark Civil Rights legislation. Legal Center Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert wrote an article for the issue, “The Future of the Voting Rights Act” which examines the background of the Act, its multiple renewals and the court challenges which followed each one. The piece goes on to take a close look at the Act’s Section 5 bailout provisions, their effectiveness and affordability, the Court’s significant underestimate of the jurisdictions which have utilized them, and how they provide the flexibility to continually tweak and improve this still-vital Congressional remedy to discrimination.
To read the full article in the Rutgers Law Review, click here.
- Oct 10, 2012
You can’t even watch the playoffs these days without being bombarded by political attack ads by groups who won’t say where they get their money. Some political operatives now tell us if party committees could just take unlimited donations, the ads by these outside groups will go away. If you’re buying that, I bet they’ve got a bridge to sell you as well.
Unlimited contributions to political parties would be a huge mistake. All this proposed “reform” would do is give wealthy donors who are currently financing independent expenditures yet another avenue to buy access and influence with candidates and officeholders.
Large contributions to candidates and political parties corrupt and create the appearance of corruption, decreasing public confidence in government and our democratic process.
- Oct 2, 2012
It seems like an obvious proposition, that a citizen registering to vote casting a ballot, is engaged in free speech, a fundamental right entitled to full protection under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The proposition seems especially obvious in light of the broad First Amendment protection extended to the dollars spent by financial contributors to influence our votes.
But that is not how the Supreme Court sees it. Spending in elections -- by candidates, political parties, individuals, corporations, labor unions, and others -- is treated as free speech entitled to broad First Amendment protection against state and federal limitation. Registering and voting, on the other hand, do not have such protection and can be restricted within states' broad discretion.