WWS Calendar

Donald S. Bernstein '75 Lecture: Can Our Democracy Survive the Supreme Court?

Apr 22, 2014 04:30PM to 06:00PM
Robertson Hall
Arthur Lewis Auditorium


Open to the Public
Trevor Potter, former head of the Federal Elections Commission

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United 2010 decision and this spring’s McCutcheon decision are two of several recent court decisions that have limited the ability of citizens to regulate money in American politics. Many of these judicial decisions reflect an incomplete or simply erroneous understanding of how money actually functions in the real political world. The result is a “campaign finance system” which does not reflect anyone’s ideal (including the Supreme Court’s), and which increasingly threatens core democratic values.

Trevor Potter, founding president and CEO of the Campaign Legal Center, former chair of the Federal Election Commission and lawyer for Stephen Colbert’s SuperPAC, will deliver the 2014 Donald S. Bernstein ’75 Lecture at Princeton University, Tuesday, April 22, 4:30 p.m., Dodds Auditorium, Robertson Hall. His talk: “Can Our Democracy Survive the Supreme Court?” will discuss developments in campaign finance law, particularly with regards to the recent Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Potter has been described by the American Bar Association Journal as “hands-down one of the top lawyers in the country on the delicate intersection of politics, law and money.” He served as general counsel to John McCain’s 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns, and as deputy general counsel to the George H.W. Bush 1988 presidential campaign. Between 1991 and 1995, he was a commissioner of the Federal Election Commission and was the chair of the Commission in 1994. More recently, Potter has appeared frequently on the “Colbert Report,” both advising Colbert on campaign finance issues and serving as Colbert’s lawyer for his SuperPAC, “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.” A nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, he is the author and editor of several books on lobbying regulation and disclosure, campaign finance and federal election law. He has testified before Congress on federal election proposals and campaign finance regulation. Potter is a graduate of Harvard College and of the University of Virginia School of Law, and he began his government service at the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission.

A collection of videos of Potter’s appearances on “The Colbert Report” can be found here

The Bernstein Lecture is endowed by a generous grant to the Program in Law and Public Affairs from Donald S. Bernstein ’75. A graduate of Princeton University, the University of Chicago Law School, and a distinguished attorney, Bernstein envisioned the annual lecture as an occasion for students and the Princeton community to learn from a significant legal scholar how legal thinking informs the search for solutions to current public problems. Inaugurated in 2005, the Bernstein Lecturers have included Judge Richard Posner (2005); Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth (2006); Yale Law Professor (now Dean) Robert C. Post (2007); Harvard Law Professor Cass R. Sunstein (2008); Israeli Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch (2009); Yale Law Professor Jack M. Balkin (2010); Harvard Law Professor Yochai Benkler (2011); and Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber (2013).

The Program in Law and Public Affairs (LAPA) explores the role of law in politics, society, the economy and culture in the United States, in countries around the world, and across national borders. Through its programming, teaching, and research initiatives, LAPA combines the multidisciplinary expertise of Princeton’s faculty with the knowledge and perspectives provided by leading academics and practical experts on American, international, and comparative law to create an exciting forum in which to address the complex problems of the 21st century.