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 voters. And the donors were significantly older and more...

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...

The Hard Truth about McCain's Soft Money Ban

Everyone jumped all over John McCain after the news broke that he had intervened with the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of a generous campaign contributor. Here's a candidate who has made campaign finance reform the centerpiece of his campaign, and he was caught committing a blatant act of favoritism for a contributor. What could be worse than that? Lots. The real scandal is not that McCain did the favor despite his crusade to clean up government. Nor is it that "everybody is tainted by the system," as McCain himself said. The real story is that McCain's campaign finance reform proposal won't clean up the sort of mess McCain--and every other candidate--finds himself in. McCain wants a ban on "soft money," the unlimited contributions that flow into political parties spawned by a loophole in the election laws. Soft money is a real scourge on the body politic, and eliminating it would be a significant step. But when McCain took money from Paxson Communications's executives...

Character and Campaign Finance

For years, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell has steeled the spines of his fellow opponents of campaign finance reform by telling them, don't worry, no one has ever won or lost an election because of his or her position on the issue. Well, McConnell's maxim is losing its power. Senator John McCain's stunning victories over Texas Governor George W. Bush in New Hampshire and Michigan show that campaign finance reform does matter to voters, especially as an issue that defines a candidate's character. Signs of the issue's importance to New Hampshire voters, including those voters who gave McCain his victory, can be traced back to an August 1998 poll conducted by the Mellman Group. In that survey, 79 percent of New Hampshire voters overall said they wanted changes made in the federal campaign finance system. Even more interesting, a whopping 84 percent of self-identified "conservative Republicans" supported that proposition. When asked about specific proposals like a ban on soft money and...

Campaign Finance Emissions

Thirty years after the first Earth Day in 1970, environmentalists have much to celebrate. Just 25 years ago, for example, the majority of the nation's water was polluted. Today, two-thirds of that precious resource is considered safe, thanks largely to the Clean Water Act. But despite the broad public support for further efforts to cut pollution and reduce global warming, congressional action on these concerns has been stymied by one major factor: campaign money. In the 1998 election cycle, individuals and PACs representing the major despoilers of the environment--oil and gas, mining, electric utilities, and the auto industry--gave $48.2 million in federal campaign contributions. By contrast, campaign contributions from environmental groups to federal candidates and parties in the 1998 elections totaled just $814,712. That's a ratio of nearly 60 to 1. In return for their money, these industries have influenced Congress on a host of important environmental issues, weakening toxic...