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

Recent Articles

Who Gives?

Considering the almost hour-by-hour polling of the nation's voters, it's amazing how little is done to survey the views and backgrounds of the people who really matter in American politics: the elite class of political donors. Thus, an unusual survey conducted this summer is worth hailing. The poll compared a sample of 200 political contributors (half had contributed at least $5,000 to Democrats and the other half had given at least $5,000 to Republicans) with a general pool of 1,000 registered voters. The survey was conducted by Lake Snell Perry & Associates for the Institute for America's Future and the Nation Institute . The donor class is not like the rest of us--that much is clear. Nearly three-quarters of the big-money contributors in this poll (which used conventional random-sampling methods after the original pool of names was drawn from Federal Election Commission records) were male, compared to 48 percent of the...

Clean Elections, How To

Public frustration with political influence peddling hasn't been this high since Watergate, and thanks to Maine we finally have an example of how to do reform right.

T he 1996 elections for Congress and the presidency cost close to $2 billion, and produced a turnout of just 48 percent. Some say the late-breaking Democratic money scandals cost the Democrats the House. There is little question that the price we all paid was increasing disdain for the political system. We now have a rare political opportunity as Congress reconvenes to revisit proposals and strategies for campaign finance reform. But beware "bipartisan" reforms. Both parties have colluded in a system that has generated record sums of special-interest money. A better concept is nonpartisan reform. And we know that for truly far-reaching and clean-sweeping reform to be enacted, the public must be fully mobilized to support it. The record of failed reform attempts in Congress over the last 20 years offers a clear lesson: Packages of piecemeal reforms do not generate the requisite public enthusiasm. The first task is to frame the outcome we seek, to define where reform ultimately has to...

Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

The final numbers aren't in yet, but we may soon be calling this the first $4-billion presidential election in U.S. history. (About half as much was spent by parties and candidates a mere four years ago.) With most of the campaign money coming from special interests, the need for comprehensive reform intensifies. A new wave of activism around the issue of democracy seems to be on the rise. But that's not to say the going will be easy. Although "clean money" initiatives have been approved in Maine, Arizona, and Massachusetts, similar reform proposals were rejected this November in Missouri and Oregon. What happened? It may have been that in both states there were just too many other issues competing for voters' attention. In Oregon, where a clean-money proposal lost by a percentage-point margin of 59 to 41, the question was one of 26 on the ballot and expensive battles were fought over many of the other initiatives. In Missouri, where a reform proposition lost...

Reform You Can Take to the Bank

At its core, the McCain-Feingold bill was about getting rid of soft money. So far, so good. But as part of the deal, the Senate voted to hike hard-money limits. The Senate has thus exacerbated the money-and-politics problem. Assuming that the bill becomes law, we can expect a future in which campaign costs soar, elite donors tighten their grip on lawmakers, special interests get a bigger payback from politicians, and incumbents remain entrenched. So much for the promise of campaign finance reform. As we have followed the money trail, we have seen how incumbents beat challengers at the fundraising game. In 2000, Senate incumbents outraised challengers in hard money by a ratio of nearly 2 to 1, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. (The gap is even starker in contributions from high-level hard-money donors, the very ones likely to take advantage of the new $2,000 per-candidate, per-election limits.) The incumbents raised an average of $1.8 million from donors of at least $1,...

The Care and Feeding of Fat Cats

Last issue ["Labor's Loss," August 14, 2000], we described how, in the race for campaign dollars, business is outpacing labor by an increasingly wide margin: eight to one in 1994, 11 to one in 1996 and 1998, and 15 to one in the 2000 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The contribution gap between business and labor is nearly half a billion dollars wide: $521 million to $35 million. This suggests that no matter which party is in control of Congress after November 7, members will be beholden more to business donors than to labor interests. This imbalance helps explain why Congress has rushed to eliminate the inheritance tax on all large estates, which would cost the Treasury $50 billion and benefit a tiny number of very wealthy families. And it also explains why the House just voted, once again, to delay the implementation of new "ergonomic" safety rules promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health...