USC Price School of Public Policy

Campaign Finance Reform Symposium

USC Price Hosts Debate on Campaign Finance Reform

Juliet Musso and  Elizabeth Garrett Associate professor Juliet Musso, right, with Provost Elizabeth Garrett
Photo by Martin Vo
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In the midst of what is likely to be the most expensive presidential campaign in American history, some of the nation’s top legal and political scholars came together on April 19 in Sacramento to debate what candidates should disclose and what voters should be told about the money flowing into political races.

The symposium on “Rethinking Campaign Finance Reform,” organized by the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy in Sacramento and the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), drew more than 300 state capital politicos, attorneys, reform advocates and academics.

The debate included a legal look at a 2010 Supreme Court case that deregulated campaign spending by corporations and labor unions and a “behind the curtains” discussion by those in the political realm. These issues, said USC Price dean Jack H. Knott, line up with one of the school’s central goals “to promote informed policy discourse.”

Campaign Finance Reform Symposium From left, Fair Political Practices Commission chair Ann Ravel, USC Price professor Juliet Ann Musso, USC provost Elizabeth Garrett and USC Price dean Jack H. Knott
Photo by Martin Vo

USC provost and senior vice president for academic affairs Elizabeth Garrett, the Frances R. and John J. Duggan Professor of Law, Political Science and Public Policy, was uniquely suited to step out of her administrative role to join a spirited debate among legal scholars at the symposium.

One of Garrett’s recent articles was cited in both the majority opinion and the dissent in the 2010 Citizens United case, and in 2009, she was appointed to serve as a member of the FPCC.

During the panel discussion moderated by Juliet Ann Musso, Houston Flournoy Professor of State Government at USC Price in Sacramento, Garrett said rules on disclosing campaign contributions should be more narrowly tailored to protect against quid pro quo corruption and to target information most helpful to the public at the ballot box.

The federal requirement that names of people giving as little as $200 be reported, Garrett said, may be overkill. She said information on a ballot, such as the top financial contributors to a ballot initiative, could be more useful to voters.

“I have always believed the best information is information about interests, such as corporations or ideological interests,” Garrett said. “We ought to be targeting disclosure at those players.”

FPPC chair Ann Ravel closed the symposium by announcing plans to push forward on a proposal to require political bloggers to disclose if they’re being paid by political campaigns.

Ravel also cited the importance of keeping the public increasingly informed of donations being funneled to politicians, as the flood of money at the federal level increases.

“We believe that allowing these kinds of anonymous, unlimited contributions has had an effect on the cynicism the public has about our government and our public officials,” Ravel said. “We think that people need to know who’s funding these campaigns.”