On July 15, 2016,  Free Speech For People organized a panel on, “Bold Strategies for Achieving Political Equality Through a New Supreme Court” at the Netroots Nation 2016 conference, hosted in St. Louis, Missouri.

We were joined by panelists Zephyr Teachout, Jamie Raskin, Spencer Overton, and FSFP Co-Founder John Bonifaz. The panel was moderated by journalist and progressive advocate, John Nichols. Panelists spoke to a packed room on topics ranging from racial inequality and voting rights, to judicial and local elections, to the wealth primary and Super PAC spending.

Each panelist shared anecdotes from their own careers, while agreeing on the need to take the offense—especially in the courts—when challenging Citizens United. The panel began with John Nichols, National Affairs Correspondent at The Nation, surveying the crowd about their understanding of Citizens United and their feelings towards campaign finance reform. An overwhelming majority of participants signaled that they thought the influence of money in politics had gone too far. Nichols transitioned into introducing the speakers, first asking Free Speech For People President and co-founder, John Bonifaz about a multi-pronged approach to tackle Citizens United.

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John Bonifaz made the case for developing an aggressive litigation strategy that shifts to the offense in challenging big money in our elections, rather than focusing solely on defending existing campaign finance laws. Bonifaz highlighted our recent FEC complaint filing challenging super PACs and a pending ordinance in St. Petersburg, Florida, that will end Super PAC spending and foreign corporate money in local elections.  He also touched on the need to continue advancing grassroots organizing and legislative support for reform.

Jamie Raskin, Maryland State Senator and Professor of Law at American University’s Washington College of Law,  spoke on what he calls “the wealth primary.” In 1993, Jamie Raskin and John Bonifaz co-authored “Equal Protection and the Wealth Primary” in  Yale Law & Policy Review,  which identified  the wealth primary, and made the case of campaign finance reform as a civil rights issue. Raskin discussed the inequality caused by money in politics, and the barriers created by record breaking election spending—especially in primary and local races.CnbfNcIVUAAcXTi

President of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and Professor of Law at George Washington University Law School, Spencer Overton also touched on the racial inequality caused by the wealth primary and special interest spending in elections. His comments addressed the divides caused by those who “have” and “have not” when it comes to candidates running with the support of big donors and super PACs.

Zephyr Teachout, Professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law,  shared a firsthand account of the impact super PAC spending had on her campaign for New York mayor.  She is currently running for Congress in New York, with the help of small grassroots donors. Zephyr spoke to the growing support in New York  for publicly funded elections, and how this would level the playing field for candidates—especially women.

A lively Q/A session followed the discussion, with attendees lingering to take photos and connect with the speakers. The panel was a great success, thanks to all of our panelists and the support of Netroots Nation. We are proud to have organized this event and to engaged this stellar group on this cause of our time.