Professor Eugene Mazo makes presentation on campaign finance at American Constitution Society’s Convention

Group photo of students at the ACS Convention 2014

ACS Convention 2014

Professor Eugene Mazo made a presentation on campaign finance at the American Constitution Society’s 2014 Annual Convention held June 19-21, 2014, in Washington, D.C. While there, Mazo presented a paper at the “ACS Scholars’ Schmooze.” The “Schmooze” events were started more than 20 years ago by Professor Mark Tushnet of Harvard Law School and invite leading scholars to showcase their work. Mazo’s presentation was entitled “Avoiding Supreme Injustice: A Way Around the Supreme Court for Campaign Finance Reform(ers).”

Professor Mazo argues that Congress is not likely to adopt any campaign finance regulations anytime soon, especially if they are likely to be struck down by the Supreme Court. The challenge for campaign finance reformers thus lies in finding a strategy to regulate the role of money in politics without running afoul of the First Amendment. Any statute seeking to regulate the system will have to withstand a challenge in the courts and will wind up before the Supreme Court. As such, reformers face two dilemmas. The first is figuring out how to bypass the Supreme Court when it comes to enacting legitimate campaign finance regulations. The second is figuring out how to get Congress to sign on to a bipartisan campaign finance proposal.

Since the 1976 case of Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court has accepted only one justification for allowing campaign finance regulations to stand. That justification is to prevent “corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Yet Mazo argues that the straight jacket of the Court’s corruption paradigm limits our conversation, and he believes that it’s time to circumvent the Supreme Court when it comes to passing campaign finance reform. Instead of adopting a law, Professor Mazo says that Congress can regulate campaign rules through internal ethical codes and legislative procedures. Bypassing the Supreme Court is essential because its sustained focus on the narrow “corruption paradigm” has diverted our attention from much more pressing concerns, like deciding how our institutions of government should collectively be regulating money in politics. The effect that money has on our elections, how it skews the policy focus of our politicians, and how it advances the agendas of special interest groups are all serious problems. In Professor Mazo’s view, the inability of our institutions to address such issues in a collective manner is the real problem we face. In an effort to start a different kind of conversation, Professor Mazo writes that we need to begin to view campaign finance from a more institutional perspective. And when one institution, such as the Supreme Court, will not allow popular campaign finance reforms to proceed, we must contemplate ways around that roadblock.

A number of legal luminaries attended the 2014 ACS Convention. They included Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger, former New York Times Supreme Court correspondent Linda Greenhouse, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Pamela Karlan, Slate‘s Supreme Court correspondent Dahlia Lithwick, Yale Law School Dean Robert C. Post, noted NAACP litigator Theodore M. (“Ted”) Shaw, University of Chicago Professor Geoffrey Stone, and Harvard Law School Professor Laurence H. Tribe.

Two Wake Forest Law School students, Jaime Garcia (’16) and Liz Vennum (’15), also attended the 2014 Convention. Vennum shook hands with Justice Sotomayor on Thursday, and Garcia had lunch with Linda Greenhouse of The New York Times on Saturday. Naturally, Garcia spoke to Greenhouse about the amazing education that students receive at Wake Forest Law School.