Latest News from the Brennan Center

April 17, 2012


Coalition Pushes for Public Financing of Elections

A new coalition is pushing for public campaign financing in New York State, and they’re not of the type of profile you’d expect, the New York Times reports. Members of New York Leadership for Accountable Government, brought together by the Brennan Center, are CEOs, executives, and political leaders — many of whom have donated large amounts of money to political campaigns in the past. The coalition proposes that Albany adopt New York City’s public financing system to let state legislators focus less on fundraising and more on actual policy and constituents. This would be a double victory for all New Yorkers, the Brennan Center’s Fritz Schwarz, Jr.  told the Times. “You have lower amounts of money that can be given, and No. 2, ordinary people become engaged in political campaigns and candidates change their approach to campaigning.” Read the Times and Newsday editorials in favor of public campaign financing.

Judge Diane Wood Keynotes Jorde Symposium

diane wood_newsletter.JPG Judge Diane P. Wood has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Seventh Circuit since 1995, so she knows more than a little something about the keys to effective decision-making. Yesterday, for the Brennan Center’s Jorde Symposium, she delivered a lecture on the topic called, “When to Hold, When to Fold, and When to Reshuffle: The Art of Decision Making on a Multi-member Court.” Judge Wood peppered her lecture with movie quotes and examples from decisions she was involved in throughout her career. She explained what she thought were the main reasons appellate judges choose to write separate dissenting opinions: They are compelled out of a strong matter of principle, they do not believe the majority rule will provide the necessary guidance, or they feel the need to correct errors when they think a panel is mistaken.

Surveilling the NYPD’s Surveillance

The NYPD's decision to monitor Muslims solely on the basis of their religion is not conducive to building trust, the Brennan Center’s Faiza Patel and Michael Price argued on Al Jazeera. If the NYPD insists on modeling its intelligence operation as a mini-FBI, they said, it should be subject to the same level of oversight the FBI faces — from an independent inspector general. The AP reported that the Department’s “counter-terrorism” efforts since September 11, 2001 included secret surveillance of American Muslims based on their ethnicity alone. Unlike the NYPD, which operates independently, law enforcement in Chicago and Los Angeles work with the FBI to build relationships with Muslim communities to develop and share credible information. A Brennan Center report found that an evidence-based approach is the best way to deter “homegrown terrorists.”

Modernization is the Real Way to Protect Votes   

States across the country continue to pass restrictive voting laws, claiming that they protect citizens from voter fraud. Instead they should be encouraging participation by modernizing the voter registration system. “The paperless systems are much cheaper than the old forms and far more accurate,” The New York Times wrote. The Times called for states to adopt an electronic registration system and expand the rolls, a proposal the Brennan Center first introduced in 2009. Modernization would cost less, add millions to the rolls, and do much more to curb any real possibility of fraud.

From the Brennan Center Blog

DISCLOSE 2012 Will Make Mandatory Disclosure Mandatory – Mary Kate Hogan

  • For decades, the one piece of campaign finance reform that Democrats and Republicans agreed about was the importance of disclosure. Here is their chance to prove they are serious.

Jim Crow Legacy Continues Today – Keesha Gaskins

  • We are seeing a war on voting that can only be compared to the dark, discriminatory past of the Jim Crow era.

Louisiana’s Public Defender Fees are Poor Fiscal and Legal Policies – Roopal Patel

  • A client- and conviction-dependant funding scheme in Louisiana places well-intentioned public defenders in conflicting positions relative to their clients.

It Takes a Village to Raise a Battle Cry – Ethan Smith

  • In the battle to defend voting rights, it is easy to demonize Florida.

What We’re Reading Today

  • A round-up of quick hits, clips, and opinion pieces touching on key issues of democracy, justice, liberty and national security.

Read more blog posts here. To have the blog in your RSS feed, click here.


Screening: The Man Nobody Knew

On April 4, the Brennan Center hosted a screening of the documentary The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby. Afterwards, Carl Colby, Director/Producer of the film, spoke with the Brennan Center’s Fritz Schwarz, Jr., who was the Chief Counsel to the U.S. Senate’s Church Committee. They discussed the Church Committee’s methods during the hearings, Colby’s memories of his father, and the story of how and why the film was made. The late William Colby was one of the CIA’s first recruits back when it was called the Office of Strategic Services. He parachuted in behind enemy lines in France and Norway during World War II, and in the 1950s moonlighted as a diplomat in Rome, playing a key role in the operation to counterbalance the Soviet support of the Italian Communist Party. He is best remembered for the Operation Phoenix “pacification” program in Vietnam, and for later disclosing some of the agency’s deepest secrets to a Senate committee when he served as Director of Central Intelligence from 1973 to 1976. See video of the event here. See pictures here.

Upcoming Events

  • April 18Monica Youn testifies at a congressional forum on campaign finance reform in Washington, D.C.
  • April 18Wendy Weiser testifies on restrictive voting laws at a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C.
  • April 19Nicole Austin-Hillery participates in a University of Memphis panel on racial justice advocacy and reform.
  • April 25 – The Brennan Center co-hosts a debate on the scope of executive power with the American Constitution Society.
  • April 27Diana Kasdan presents a workshop on voter suppression at the 4th Annual Civil Rights Summit in Kansas City, Missouri.

  • Liza Goitein and Faiza Patel wrote about religious and racial profiling for The Hill's Congress Blog.
  • USA Today’s story about spending in West Virginia’s Supreme Court races mentioned a Brennan Center study showing that fundraising of state races has increased exponentially since 1989.
  • The Nation cited a Brennan Center survey showing how voter ID laws affect women, whose last names often change with marriages, and whose address might change due to separations or divorces.  
  • Nicole Austin-Hillery told The Washington Post that Americans should learn from — not turn from — racial issues that arise from events such as Trayvon Martin’s killing.
  • Adam Skaggs told UPI that the Supreme Court’s decision to evaluate a recent Montana court decision on corporate campaign funding “gives justices a chance to review the ‘real-world consequences’ of Citizens United and the devastating effect it has had on our democracy."
  • A Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed questioning if there is indeed “true merit” in judicial selections used the Brennan Center’s numbers on judicial elections spending.
  • Lee Rowland helped a New Republic blogger figure out why voter suppression isn’t a protest cause.

To read more Brennan Center In The News, click here.