Professor Eugene Mazo is a specialist in the law of democracy. His writes about American election law, legislation, the regulation of the political process, democratic development, and constitutional design. He teaches classes in those areas as well as first-year courses in contracts, torts, and civil procedure. His new book Democracy by the People, Reforming Campaign Finance in America was just published by Cambridge University Press and is available through Amazon.
How did you first get involved in editing the book?
Within the greater field of election law, I have been writing about campaign finance for a number of years. I got involved in editing this book after I decided to hold a conference on reforming campaign finance in the United States with Tim Kuhner, my friend and the book's co-editor, in 2016. We found that most of the scholars who were writing on campaign finance at the time were telling us about the problems inherent in our current campaign finance system, but they weren't providing practical solutions for how that system could be reformed. So we came up with the idea of holding a conference that would be devoted solely to offering solutions. This conference was generously sponsored by our friends at Free Speech For People, which is a very important public advocacy organization that has worked tirelessly to overhaul America’s campaign finance system. We invited leading election law scholars to present their best ideas, and a book eventually arose out of this event and the ideas presented there.
Who is this book meant for?
The book has several audiences. One is other scholars and democracy practitioners - people who work at social justice organizations like the ACLU, the Brennan Center for Justice, Demos, Common Cause, Free Speech For People, the League of Women Voters, and so forth. We wanted to provide these folks with practical ideas for how our campaign finance system could be reformed without running afoul of the Supreme Court's existing jurisprudence. We sought to take the best ideas that scholars in the field had and to place them under one set of covers. A second audience for the book is the average educated American reader, for whom we wanted to provide a primer on campaign finance law. We wanted to educate our fellow citizens about how our campaign finance system works, what the problems inherent in the system are, and what ideas leading scholars have for how our campaign finance system should be reformed.
What are some of the most interesting findings?
This book is divided into three parts. Part I of the book explains the problems inherent in our campaign finance system from the historical, philosophical, and empirical perspectives. Part II provides a dozen practical solutions for how our campaign finance system can be improved. Part III, entitled "Inspiration from Abroad," provides a comparative perspective for the reader on how other democracies regulate their national campaign finance systems. It turns out that other countries impose much more stringent requirements on their donors and spenders. That in itself is interesting. And yet, other countries experience political scandals on the same order as the United States. So while campaign spending in other countries is much more restrictive and more highly regulated than it is in the United States, it is not clear that this actually alleviates the problems of corruption. At the end of the day, politicians are politicians, and across the globe, these politicians turn out to have a lot in common.
This is a pretty topical issue for our times. Why write this book now?
Campaign finance reform is "the" political issue of our time, and we wanted to publish this book now because we believe that the strong consensus among Americans that there is too much money in politics presents a powerful call to action. Poll after poll says that the American people want campaign finance reform. In survey after survey, Americans overwhelmingly support reining in the power and influence of lobbyists, restraining outside spending, and requiring special interest groups to disclose their donors. With this book, Tim Kuhner and I hope to provide a blueprint for social change in the United States -- indeed, many blueprints. We hope that through the ideas found in the book's chapters, Americans will be able to restore the belief among their fellow citizens that having a meaningful democracy is still possible.
What was your journey to becoming an expert on this topic?
Well, I am the son of refugees who fled communist Russia and immigrated to the United States when I was a small child. That history has strongly influenced me throughout my life. In fact, my parents settled, of all places, in Newark. I grew up being wary of autocracy and interested in democracy—what makes it take shape, what nurtures it, and what makes it blossom and thrive. When I decided to become a law professor, I had to specialize in a field. And there was nothing more natural for me, given my background, than election law. Today, I spend my days trying to keep our politicians honest—and trying to give meaning and life to our democracy.