Ellen Miller

Ellen Miller is the publisher of TomPaine.com. She is a former senior fellow at The American Prospect and the Moving Ideas Network.

A public interest advocate with over 30 years experience in Washington, D.C., Ms.
Miller's career spans early work with Ralph Nader at the Center for Responsive
Law and the Center for Auto Safety, to positions on Capitol Hill at the House
Intelligence Committee and the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, and the
founding and direction of two nationally prominent organizations in the field of
money and politics – The Center for Responsive Politics and Public Campaign.
Before joining The Prospect, she served as president of Youth Venture, a
nonprofit focused on creating a dramatic change in the role of young people in
contemporary American society.

A nationally-recognized expert on America's campaign finance system, Ms. Miller
is well-known as a public speaker, commentator, and writer on a range of issues.
 She serves on the boards of several non-profit organizations, including Earth
Action, the Center for Responsive Politics, and the Family Foundation, and lives
in Washington, D.C. with her husband, Richard, and their two daughters, Anne and
Elizabeth.

Recent Articles

No Chance

The swift unraveling of the campaign-finance-reform law that went into effect a day after the last election should come as no surprise to the public, to lawmakers, to the journalists who've chronicled its shredding in recent weeks -- or even to the reform groups that fought so hard for it. What is hard to fathom is that a law that took more than two decades to pass and that is so modest in its ambitions has been so thoroughly eviscerated so quickly. Understanding how this happened provides a good lesson in how Washington's political culture is so resistant to change. One of the leading reformers, Scott Harshbarger, president of Common Cause at the time the reform was passed, told me, "The amount of money will not change. The issue is just as serious, just as complicated and just as extreme as it's always been, but it will be pushed further away if the regulations and the court support us." The problem is, that's a real big "if." In March, President Bush signed the Bipartisan Campaign...

Bite the Ballot

F or years conservatives had a corner on ballot initiatives. Think of California's infamous Proposition 13, and the anti-tax blitzkrieg that swept after it through 43 states. Think of the anti-choice, anti-gay and anti-environment ballot measures of the last two decades. But 2002 seems to mark a turnaround. "This year it's the liberals' turn," says M. Dane Waters, head of the Initiative and Referendum Institute, a nonpartisan resource group with conservative roots. Liberal observers agree. It's impossible to label every measure of the 47 that have qualified so far for this year's ballots as either "liberal" or "conservative," but of those that can be labeled, progressive measures outweigh conservative ones nearly 2-to-1. Why the lefty surge? "There's been a gradual change in attitude by progressives about using [initiative and referendum procedures] to get their policies enacted," says Kristina Wilfore, executive director of the liberal Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. There's also...

The Road to Nowhere

F or three decades, campaign-finance reform has been high on the liberal agenda. Not only that, it seemed like a winning cause: It played well in the media, attracted vigorous activist support and even, it seems, made its mark on Congress when the McCain-Feingold bill passed this March. And yet, moneyed interests have more power in Washington and in state capitals than ever before. Their influence may even expand come November, when the new campaign-finance laws kick in. This is not how things were supposed to go. But it's also not that surprising: Although the passage of McCain-Feingold (or the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act) was a political victory, it was also a weak reform. Some groups tout its centerpiece -- a ban on "soft money," meaning unregulated contributions from wealthy individuals and corporations to national parties -- as a powerful bulwark against special-interest influence. Others see the measure as a modest step on the road to reform. Either way, the victory was more...

Willful Error:

I n his latest Washington Post column , George Will strives to discount the common-sense notion that special-interest money corrupts legislative action. In the process, he finds himself falling back on this classic canard, often repeated by the opponents of campaign-finance reform: "abundant scholarship demonstrates that most legislative behavior -- and most campaign giving -- is explainable by the legislators' political philosophies, party affiliations or constituents' desires." This is a classic example of looking for one's lost keys under the lamppost rather than in the dark where they would be harder -- but not impossible -- to see. Consider the following clear demonstrations of money's influence on politics: Dinner Bell for Donors. The Tauzin-Dingell telecom bill that passed the House in February, allowing Baby Bells to offer long-distance broadband services without opening local service to competition, is a classic example of "money in, votes out." Those 273 members who voted in...

Speaking Freely:

Y ou've got to admit that Senator Mitch McConnell has found a clever way to dress up his support for the campaign finance status quo: He's been trying to wrap himself in the First Amendment. On the last day of debate on the campaign finance bill that he fought for years, McConnell said that "the government is telling people how, when, and how much speech they are allowed," that the bill provided for "a wholesale regulation of every action of every American anytime there is a federal election," and that it "seeks nothing less than a fundamental reworking of the American political system." He further commented that the legislation "treads on the associational rights of groups … it hampers the ability of national and state parties to support state and local candidates and federalizes our every action and conversation." Strong stuff, that. But whose free speech is McConnell really concerned about? Does he expect us to believe he is a First Amendment zealot? Or is this talk of defending...

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