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


As soon as the Senate passed campaign finance reform, the House started to undo it. In a little-noticed measure, just as the Senate was moving toward final passage of the McCain-Feingold bill, House Ways and Means Committee chairman Bill Thomas (R-California) pushed through a provision to exempt certain political-action committees (PACs) from reporting requirements imposed on them some 20 months ago. The irony of the move was doubled when President Bush announced he would sign the larger reform legislation even though what he really favored was full and complete disclosure of all political activity. The groups in question are a certain category of so-called "stealth PACs" that operate under Section 527 of the IRS code. Under Thomas's ploy, political groups concentrating on state and local campaigns would be exempted from federal reporting requirements, even though these groups can influence elections. Because state reporting requirements are notoriously poor, this could result in a...

With Victories Like These....

What a cruel twist of fate: campaign finance reform that benefits Republicans and big money. The Shays-Meehan bill is back-to-the-future reform: legislation that takes us back to just before 1980, when there was no "soft money" but still a huge imbalance in the influence of the big contributors over the rest of the population. Under the terms of the bill that passed the House, the national parties' committees can no longer raise soft money -- the unlimited and unregulated contributions that totaled $498 million in 2000. A very good thing, that. But the tradeoff to eliminate this most notorious campaign finance "loophole" will actually enhance the power of wealthy special interests, for it loosens a whole series of strictures on hard-money donations -- and hard money has already eclipsed soft. Total hard-money contributions to candidates, political action committees (PACs), and parties in the 2000 election cycle came to $1.8 billion, nearly three times the soft-money total. To ease...

Labor's Loss

As this year's presidential and congressional elections turn inexorably into high-priced auctions, much attention has been paid to the fact that Democrats have in some respects achieved parity with Republicans in the money chase. According to the Federal Election Commission, as of March 31, Senate Democrats had raised $35.1 million in hard and soft money; Senate Republicans had raised $41.3 million. On the House side, Democrats were nearly even with Republicans in the soft money chase, $25 million to $27.5 million; Republicans were still well ahead in the hard money category, $45.2 million to $20.8 million. But while everyone is talking about how this may affect the partisan composition of the next Congress, few people have noticed a more telling underlying change. The gap between business and labor contributions is widening dramatically. In the last three full election cycles, 1994, 1996, and 1998, business outspent labor every single time in contributions to federal candidates and...

Guns and Money

More than a year after the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, Congress remains unwilling to pass even the most incremental legislation controlling access to lethal weapons. There is no better explanation for that than the role of money in politics. Take the current impasse over the waiting period for background checks on purchases made at gun shows. Last May, in the wake of the Littleton shootings, the Senate voted by 51-50 (with Al Gore casting the tie-breaker) for a three-day waiting period on gun show purchases. Three out of four of the guns used in the Columbine attack were purchased at Denver-area gun shows. The House then adopted an amendment to limit the check to 24 hours, and then killed the bill carrying it. A glance at the money trail is instructive. The 44 senators who said "no" to strong background checks on three separate roll call votes over the course of a week last May were the benefici-aries, on average, of nearly 29 times more campaign cash...

Pay-to-Play Conventions

The Republicans had their time. Then AT&T, Lockheed Martin, and Microsoft packed up the trade show we still call a "political convention" and moved it over to Los Angeles. This year's conventions will cost an estimated $85 million--$25 million more than they did in 1996--and the long list of corporate sponsors to the convention's "host committees" reads like a "who's who" of companies whose profit margins are deeply affected by government decision making. American International Group, which gave half a million dollars to the GOP convention and poured $2 million into the Democratic convention, is lobbying hard for a trade agreement with China. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the company has already invested millions of dollars setting up offices in China and training Chinese insurance agents. The company is also a generous campaign donor to federal candidates and parties, giving more than $774,000 this election cycle, 58 percent of it to Republicans. General Motors...