Kagan central to Clinton campaign finance reform efforts


Elena Kagan, President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, was an active player in the Clinton Administration’s efforts on campaign finance reform, a quick search of her emails–easily searchable and available here, thanks to Sunlight Labs–shows. (Click here to see a list of all emails that crossed her desk mentioning the term.)

Campaign finance reform was one of two ideas she gave to her boss, White House Counsel Abner Mikvah, as a topic that would keep her “amused,” and make “good use” of her.
After she started work at the White House in 1995 she wrote in an e-mail: “I note that in addition to the supposed handshake creating a birpartisan commission, the Senate recently approved a resolution to consider campaign finance legislation in this Congress. Is there stuff going on in the White House on this issue? Involving whom? Is there a way for me to get involved?”

Soon after, her name is included on streams of email traffic relating to Administration campaign finance proposals, including many rounds of draft talking points, at least one reference to a meeting with a member of Congress (former Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass., who was a major player on campaign finance reform), and a State of the Union address. There is also a reference to a meeting with the AFL-CIO.

Most telling is a talking point she drafted (already reported by Newsweek) in which she wrote that while any “meaningful campaign finance reform proposal raises constitutional issues,” that the Supreme Court ought to revisit the concept that money equals speech:

RESPONSE: It is unfortunately true that almost any meaningful campaign finance reform proposal raises constitutional issues. This is a result of the Supreme Court’s view — which I believe to be mistaken in many cases — that money is speech and that attempts to limit the influence of money on our political system therefore raise First Amendment problems. I think that even on this view, the Court could and should approve this measure because of the compelling governmental interest in preventing corruption. But I also think the Court should reexamine its premise that the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment entails a right to throw money at the political system.

If such statements reflect Kagan’s own views, they show her in sharp conflict with the majority that recently ruled, in Citizens United, that corporations and unions can spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns. 

President Bill Clinton–battered over the course of his administration by charges of selling access to the White House’s Lincoln bedroom to campaign contributors and taking contributions from Chinese nationals, also pushed for campaign finance reform–including a ban on soft money contributions to federal party committees. Such a ban did not become law until the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act in 2002.