Money in Politics 2009: New Horizons for Reform

Saturday, May 9, 2009 - 9:00am

Agenda | Panel 1 | Keynote & Discussion | Panel 2 | Panel 3 | Closing Remarks
Videos | Photos

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Michael Malbin of the Campaign Finance Institute presented data from the 2008 elections, and Lawrence Lessig gave the keynote, followed by a luncheon discussion featuring Lawrence Lessig, Micah Sifry and Adam Bonin about the Internet and money in politics.

There was an impressive and interesting array of speakers, including Norm Eisen, Sam Waterston, Bob Bauer, Monica Youn, Robert Kaiser, Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Andrew Hoppin, Rick Hasen, Beth Rotman, Fred Wertheimer, Trevor Potter, Allison Hayward, Bruce Ackerman, Nick Nyhart, Richard Briffault, Don Simon and others. The complete agenda is below.

Materials: Conference Program | Supplemental Material

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Money in Politics 2009: New Horizons for Reform - May 8, 2009
National Press Club

I. Welcome: Michael Waldman (Brennan Center for Justice), Robert Kaiser (Washington Post), and Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) | 8:45 am - 9:15 am

II. Panel One: Is the Small Donor Revolution Hype or Reality? Campaign Finance and Political Engagement | 9:15 am - 10:45 am (VIDEO) (transcript)

Focusing on data from 2008 election cycle, implications for reforms on contribution limits from new research by Professor Stratmann, and public engagement as part of the goals and practice of both campaign finance and governance.

  • Laura MacCleery (Brennan Center for Justice) (moderator)
  • Michael Malbin, Data on Small Donors (Campaign Finance Institute, University at Albany SUNY)
  • Norm Eisen (White House Chief Ethics Adviser)
  • Rev. Lennox Yearwood (Hip Hop Caucus)
  • Dr. Thomas Stratmann (George Mason University)
  • Andrew Hoppin (Chief Information Officer, New York State Senate)

III. Pre-Luncheon Keynote Presentation: Lawrence Lessig (Change Congress) | 11:00 am - 11:25 am (VIDEO) (transcript)

IV. Lunch | 11:25 am - 12:00 pm

V. A conversation on the Internet and Campaign Finance | 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm (transcript)

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VI. Panel Two: Money, Politics, and the Constitution: Is campaign finance reform on a collision course with the Supreme Court? | 1:15 pm - 2:30 pm (VIDEO) (transcript)

Focusing on the explosion of constitutional challenges to campaign finance reform in federal and state courts. Is there tension between the Constitution and the aims and methods of reform?

  • Monica Youn (Brennan Center for Justice) (moderator)
  • Trevor Potter (Campaign Legal Center, Caplin & Drysdale)
  • Allison Hayward (George Mason University School of Law)
  • Don Simon (Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Endreson & Perry LLP; Counsel, Democracy 21)
  • Rick Hasen (Loyola Law School)

VII. Panel Three: Reconfiguring Reform: Innovations in Campaign Finance Reform | 2:45 pm - 4:15 pm (VIDEO)

Focusing on implications of small donors for changes in the structure of public financing systems and the questions that are raised.

  • Peter Overby (National Public Radio) (moderator)
  • Fred Wertheimer (Democracy 21)
  • Nick Nyhart (Public Campaign)
  • Beth Rotman (Director, Connecticut Citizens' Election Program)
  • Richard Briffault (Columbia Law School)
  • Bob Bauer (Perkins Coie LLP)

VIII. Closing Remarks and Send-Off: Bruce Ackerman (Yale Law School) and actor Sam Waterston | 4:15 pm - 4:45 pm (VIDEO)

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Panel One: Is the Small Donor Revolution Hype or Reality? Campaign Finance and Political Engagement

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Michael Malbin discussed the Campaign Finance Institute’s data on small donors in the 2008 election, pointing out that 49% of Obama’s presidential primary contributions came from small donors ($200 or less). Mr. Malbin discussed similar trends over the full election cycle which have not been duplicated in Congressional races. White House ethics advisor Norm Eisen, a first-hand witness on the Obama campaign, spoke about his experiences as evidence of the small donor revolution. Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the 700,000-person Hip Hop Caucus argued for the need to pass the Fair Elections Now Act (FENA), which he says would lead to a paradigm shift in which candidates rely on a large number of small donors. Dr. Thomas Stratmann discussed “Electoral Competition and Low Contribution Limits,” which was co-authored with the Brennan Center’s Ciara Torres-Spelliscy and Kahlil Williams. The authors found that lower contribution limits encouraged competition, closer races, and more even campaign spending. Finally, Andrew Hopping from the New York Senate spoke on efforts to make New York State’s government more transparent. In the question and answer portion of the panel, Mr. Malbin discussed the effects of “frontloading” the presidential primary election calendar. Mr. Eisen, Reverend Yearwood, and Mr. Hoppin responded to moderator Laura MacCleery’s question about the interplay between on-line and off-line organizing in the 2008 presidential election.

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Keynote & Discussion

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Keynote presentation by Lawrence Lessig followed by a conversation on the Internet and campaign finance with Lawrence Lessig and Adam Bonin moderated by Micah Sifry.

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Panel Two: Money, Politics, and the Constitution: Is campaign finance reform on a collision course with the Supreme Court?

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Brennan Center’s Monica Youn, panel moderator, anchored a discussion on reform in the current legal climate. She highlighted two questions: first, to what extent should money be considered speech and second, what interests justify the regulation of campaign finance? Professor Richard Hasen, professor of law at Loyola University Law School and author of the Election Law blog, contrasted the positions of the Rehnquist and Roberts Courts. Practitioners Don Simon, a partner at Sonosky, Chambers, Sachs, Endreson & Perry LLP, and Trevor Potter, general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, discussed the status of cases currently before the courts, including Citizens United v. FEC and RNC v. FEC, and the impact that the Roberts Court may have upon them. Lastly, Professor Allison Hayward of George Mason University argued that the scope of current campaign finance regulation raises serious constitutional issues and urged the reform community to reassess the objectives that they hope to achieve with campaign finance regulation. In the question-and-answer portion of the second panel, panelists discussed whether the Supreme Court might consider some of the campaign finance reform interests discussed earlier in the day.

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Panel Three: Reconfiguring Reform: Innovations in Campaign Finance Reform

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Peter Overby, from National Public Radio, served as the moderator and asked whether the time was now right for public financing of elections, and asked panelists to address the issue that less prominent elections may be benefiting less from the "small donor revolution" than are more prominent ones. Beth Rotman, Director of the Connecticut Citizens' Election Program, described the operation of Connecticut’s groundbreaking full public financing system. Preliminary data shows that there has been a decrease in total PAC contributions in the state, and that the program has allowed individuals to run for elected office who would have been unable to do so with private fundraising alone. Next, Public Campaign CEO and President Nick Nyhart shared his view that now is exactly the right time to pass public funding of congressional races.  He described how the Fair Elections Now Act ("FENA")—a fair elections financing system for federal congressional races—would operate. Fred Wertheimer, President of Democracy 21, observed that debates about campaign finance are cyclical and that there have been four periods of campaign finance reform in the last 40 years, and that it is important that reform takes place now. Professor Richard Briffault began by observing that new approaches to public funding of campaigns have two notable features: 1) a move away from full public funding and 2) a move away from spending limits. Finally, attorney Robert Bauer addressed the question of how to evaluate the success or failure of public funding systems, and urged that we communicate a reasonable set of expectations. For the question and answer segment, panelists discussed the assertion that public financing is “foods stamps for politicians.” They also further discussed the Connecticut’s Clean Election system, and how to construct a public financing system that accentuates the role of small donors without treating threshold donation amounts such as $200 too rigidly.

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Closing Remarks

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Closing remarks by Bruce Ackerman (Yale Law School) and actor Sam Waterston.

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