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On New Horizons

The press weighs in on Brennan Center’s Campaign Finance Reform conference…

May 13, 2009

New Horizons logoA widely attended conference convened by the Brennan Center for Justice brought together academics, activists, politicians, Obama Administration officials and even an actor in a packed hall at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on May 8th (click here to learn more about the conference).

The event, “Money in Politics 2009: New Horizons for Reform,” was kicked-off by a presentation by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and closed with a ringing call of public funding of federal elections by the actor Sam Waterston.  During the day were presentations by a variety of experts and commentators including Peter Overby of National Public Radio’s Power, Money and Influence, Fred Wertheimer, President of Democracy 21 and Professor Allison Hayward of George Mason University School of Law.

The first panel of the day asked whether the small donor “revolution” was “hype or reality.”  Michael Malbin, Executive Director of the Campaign Finance Institute, gave a thorough analysis of the donor statistics in the 2008 presidential election and concluded that “the Obama campaign’s successes with small donors [were] the sign of a new era.” Rev. Lennox Yearwood, of the Hip Hop Caucus, stirred the crowd by saying that the move to fair elections was this generation’s “lunch counter moment.”

Another highlight for many in attendance was the presentation by Norm Eisen, the ethics advisor to the White House.  Mr. Eisen likened fundraising innovations in the 2008 presidential race to the American Revolution

Professor Lawrence Lessig delivered the keynote address, and then engaged in a lunchtime conversation about the internet and campaign finance with Adam Bonin and Micah Sifry. 

Later panels focused on innovations in campaign finance reform and constitutional challenges to reform.  Robert Bauer, Obama’s campaign attorney and a partner at the law firm Perkins Coie, LLP.,was supportive of public financing of elections, but cautioned that it would not solve all the ills in Washington. 

While the conference drove home the point that there was still much work to be done, there were also moments of optimism that there was sufficient political will to fix the broken campaign finance system in Washington. 

In response to a question about the commitment of the Obama administration to moving the necessary reforms, such as the Fair Elections Now Act, forward, Mr. Eisen stated: “The best is yet to come.  We’re going to continue this fight and we’re not going to stop, no matter what.”  The reform community, including the Brennan Center, will continue to work with the Administration and Congress, and will be counting on that promise.

Video of the conference will be available on the Brennan Center Web site at shortly.