Tag Archives: Campaign Finance Reform

Dark Money and Campaign Finance

Yesterday, NPR’s Fresh Air discussed money in politics and how recent changes to campaign finance laws have made it difficult to track money spent on elections and who is spending it.

Here is a description of the podcast from the NPR website:

Campaign finance rules allow some groups to not disclose their donors. The New York Times’ Nick Confessore says there could be “influence peddling … because we can’t see the money changing hands.”

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Lawrence Lessig’s TED Talk on Corruption and Campaign Finance Reform

Seven years ago, Internet activist Aaron Swartz convinced Lawrence Lessig to take up the fight for political reform. A year after Swartz’s tragic death, Lessig continues his campaign to free US politics from the stranglehold of corruption. In this fiery, deeply personal talk, he calls for all citizens to engage, and a offers a heartfelt reminder to never give up hope.
Recently, Harvard Law School’s Lawrence Lessig gave an impassioned TED Talk advocating comprehensive campaign finance reform and “reclaiming our democracy:”

Here is a description of the talk:

TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less). Look for talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design — plus science, business, global issues, the arts and much more.

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April 17, 2014 · 5:08 pm

Profiting from Politics: How Members of Congress Exploit Campaign Finance Laws

There is not a lot that unites Republicans and Democrats in this era of hyper-partisanship. However, last evening 60 Minutes posited that there is one thing that is common to both parties–profiting from public office. 

Here is how the story began:   

The government shutdown that finally ended on Wednesday night furloughed 800,000 government workers for the better part of two weeks, but there was one group of federal employees that was able to maintain the lifestyle that many of them have grown accustomed to: members of Congress.


With all the talk about their irreconcilable political differences, we wanted to see if they shared any common ground. And we found some. For example, there seems to be a permanent majority in Congress that’s completely satisfied with the current state of campaign financing and congressional ethics and members of both parties have institutionalized ways to skirt the rules.


Most Americans believe it’s against the law for congressmen and senators to profit personally from their political office but it’s an open secret in Washington that that’s not the case. As the saying goes the real scandal in Washington isn’t what’s illegal, it’s what is legal.

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October 21, 2013 · 3:31 pm

Looking Across the Pond to Prevent Political Gridlock

After sixteen days of government shutdown and being on the brink of federal default, Congress passed, and the President signed, a bill that will re-open the government and raise the debt ceiling, preventing high stakes budgetary brinkmanship at least until 2014.  In keeping with what has become a theme this past week this story from NPR’s Story of the Day podcast and Weekend Day Edition Saturday discusses possible solution to gridlock in Washington.  The story interview’s comparative political scientists about how the American political system compares to European democracies, which generally do not find themselves deadlocked by political paralysis.  While is it unlikely that the U.S. will soon amend the Constitution to adopt a parliament, the story discusses some important differences between how elections are financed and political negotiations are conducted in Europe and the U.S.

Here is how the segment begins: 

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October 17, 2013 · 9:43 am

Will Lobbying Destroy the American Empire?

Recently, Fareed Zakaria began his Sunday show discussing the deleterious influences of lobbyist on American politics.  

Here are the basics of “Fareed’s Take”

The entire political system creates incentives for venality. Consider just one factor – and there are many – the role of money, which has expanded dramatically over the past four decades. Harvard’s Lawrence Lessig has pointed out that Congressmen now spend three of every five workdays raising money. They also vote with extreme attention to their donors’ interests. Lessig cites studies that demonstrate that donors get a big bang for their campaign bucks – sometimes with returns on their “investment” that would make a venture capital firm proud.

Now, taking money out of politics is a mammoth challenge. So perhaps the best one could hope for is to limit instead what Congress can sell. In other words, enact a thorough reform of the tax code, ridding it of the thousands of special exemptions, credits, and deductions, which are, of course, institutionalized, legalized corruption.

The most depressing aspect of This Town, by Mark Leibovich, is how utterly routine all the influence-peddling has become. In 1990 Ramsay MacMullen, the great Yale historian of Rome, published a book that took on the central question of his field: Why did the greatest empire in the history of the world collapse in the fifth century? The root cause, he explained, was political corruption, which had become systemic in the late Roman Empire. What was once immoral had become accepted as standard practice and what was once illegal was celebrated as the new normal. Many decades from now, a historian looking at where America lost its way could use This Town as a primary source.

Watch the video for the full take and read more in the Washington Post


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August 6, 2013 · 9:09 pm

NY Corruption and the Revolving Door

Last night, Rachel Maddow started her show by discussing New York State’s outrageous public corruption scandal.  The scandal involves New York State Senator Malcolm Smith, New York City Council Member Daniel Halloran, and four others in an six count complain, which alleges bribery, extortion, and fraud charges.  

State Senator Malcolm A. Smith, a former Democrat, allegedly paid off party bosses in order to get on the ballot  in the New York City mayoral race as a Republican. 

 Aside from this blatant corruption, Maddow discussed subtler, routinecorruption–the revolving door between Washington and the private sector.  As an example, Maddow noted former Securities and Exchange Commission  (SEC) chief Mary Schapir.  Schapir, who was tasked with being  Washington’s top bank regulator, recently took a job with a consulting firm which advises banks about compliance with SEC regulations.   

The video (17:55) includes a brief introduction to the rest of the episode, and the relevant part of the story begins just under two minutes in.  

For the FBI press release regarding New York State corruption scandal, click here.

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April 3, 2013 · 6:32 pm

David Strauss: “Campaign Finance First Principles”

University of Chicago Law Professor David Strauss discusses how an ideal democracy would regulate its elections.  Strauss argues that the problem with American campaign finance laws stems from a fundamental distinction that the Supreme Court made in Buckley v. Valeo– between equality and corruption. Buckley held that the only legitimate end of campaign finance reforms laws was to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption.  However, equalizing candidates ability to be influential is not a legitimate interest of campaign finance reform.   The Court held that “the concept that government may restrict the speech of some [in] order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment.”

Strauss says that this was the original sin of the Court’s campaign finance jurisprudence.  “Equalization” is precisely what campaign finance reform law should do.


It is a law lecture that is  57:55 min.

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March 9, 2013 · 7:27 pm