Campaign Finance Reform Ignored in Election, Panelists Say

Panelists at a discussion on campaign finance reform at Harvard Law School asserted that candidates in this presidential election cycle have not emphasized reform initiatives, despite public support for amending campaign finance laws.

Sponsored by the Harvard American Constitution Society, Law School Democrats, and Law School Republicans, the Friday afternoon panel featured four panelists from across the political spectrum.

Joseph L. Breen, an organizer of the event and student at the Harvard Kennedy School, emphasized that he wanted to demonstrate bipartisan support for campaign finance reform by having two conservative and two liberal members on the panel.

“This really is bipartisan when you talk to people on the street, but for some reason when you get up into Congress, it becomes a partisan issue,” he said.

Panelists also discussed the apparent disconnect between current party officials and the electorate.

“We’ve had many political conservatives stand up for campaign finance reform over many years,” Richard Painter, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School who identifies as a conservative, said. “And one of the questions we have is why not the current elected members of the House and Senate. And the answer to that is quite clear, they are addicted to the campaign cash.”

Panelists said that this year’s presidential candidates have also largely ignored campaign finance reform in the public sphere.

Max Stahl, director of political engagement at Democracy Matters, a non-profit, said the national media’s focus on polling and primary results has led to less coverage of substantive issues.

“We really don’t have democracy, we have this illusion of democracy. As candidates put it, politics are reported on like sports on TV,” Stahl said.

John Pudner, executive director of Take Back Our Republic, a conservative group, said although Republican frontrunner Donald J. Trump has come closest to addressing campaign finance reform, even the business tycoon has never gone beyond mentioning it as a problem.

"I don’t think Trump has ever proposed a solution,” Pudner said.

Multiple panelists stressed the importance of campaign finance reform because it influences other political issues.

“The current system of campaign finance reform does have these implications and effects on a number of issues that people may care about more personally,” said Breen.

Painter mentioned national security as one of the issues.

“Campaign finance is a national security threat because when you put global corporate wealth with first amendment free speech right to influence U.S. political campaign, we are opening up our political process to sources all over the world,” he said.

John Polansky, a first-year law student who attended the panel, also noted the divide between the public and election candidates.

“There is, just by nature of the disparity between the polling of the public and the candidates in the election, a huge issue,” he said.

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