Mark Schmitt

Mark Schmitt is director of the program on political reform at the New America Foundation and former executive editor of The American Prospect



Recent Articles

Citizens Restarted

The Citizens United ruling may bring a new day in the effort to separate economic inequality from democracy.

In a poll released in early February, 56 percent of voters said they had paid some or a great deal of attention to the Supreme Court's Jan. 21 decision in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission . If true, this complex election-law case would rank among the handful of decisions -- Brown v. Board , Roe v. Wade , Bush v. Gore -- of which there is broad public awareness. President Barack Obama's charge that the Court had "reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests" in his State of the Union address gave the story a little drama, especially when Justice Samuel Alito was spotted expressing vigorous objection. Obama was overstating the case. By itself, the decision in Citizens United , which overturned a couple of already-teetering precedents that modestly limited corporations from spending independently on behalf of candidates for federal office, won't open any "floodgates," mostly because there weren't many dams to begin with...

The Two Faces of Budget Reconciliation.

The budget reconciliation process, Ezra Klein points out , "has been the key to getting anything done for at least 20 years." He's right, of course (and how I miss those long afternoons talking to Ezra about things like budget reconciliation!). But he's not quite right to call it "a majority-rules process tucked inside the super-majority Senate." He cites political scientist Joshua Tucker , who examined the Congressional Research Service report on reconciliation and deduced that it was mostly used by Republicans: "By my admittedly simple classification scheme," Tucker concludes, "this would suggest that 14 of the 19 times reconciliation was used between FY1981 - FY2005, it was used to advance Republican interests." The thing is, the budget reconciliation process takes a completely different form if there is any kind of divided control of government. If the House, Senate, and presidency are all controlled by the same party -- as is the case now, and was the case for six and a half of...

Bayh vs. Bai.

There’s a certain kind of essay that can be infuriating even when its main argument is correct. One such was retiring Sen. Evan Bayh’ s op-ed in The New York Times this weekend. Congress is broken. Needs filibuster reform. Public financing of campaigns. Senators should eat lunch together more often. In this case, the infuriating part is obvious: Dude, you’ve been in the Senate for 12 years. You could have proposed this filibuster reform at any point. You could have become the 10th co-sponsor of the Fair Elections Now Act. (You still can!) Indeed, with your reputation as a hyper-moderate, your enthusiasm about either of these reforms might have had some impact, and your long Senate career might have something more memorable to it than your manner of leaving it. As Tim mentioned earlier, Matt Bai 's, writing in the Times Magazine is similarly correct in general but infuriating in specific, when he argues correctly that think tanks shouldn’t be so tied to...

The End of the Tea Party

Right-wing populist fads catch our attention -- but they burn out quickly.

Michele Bachmann speaks at the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
As the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) overtook Washington this past week, the cheering for Dick Cheney, the sessions promoting "nullification" (the concept that states can opt out of federal laws, last heard from John C. Calhoun in the 1830s), and the angry rants about ACORN and homosexuality were a reminder that the idea that there is a "conservatism" that is measured, responsible, decent, and worthy of the word is a bit of a myth. As the historian Kevin Mattson showed in his 2008 book, Rebels All! , modern conservatism even in the era when William F. Buckley was founding National Review drew much of its energy from anger, mockery, and misinformation. This year the "tea party" movement has stirred up the old conservatives of CPAC (now in its 38th year) and given them a new confidence and passion. The tea-party strain that increasingly dominates the Republican Party represents the latest wave of right-wing populism to sweep the country -- or, rather, the media. There...

The Problem of Too Little Money in Politics

The real concern after Citizens United should be that small donors will stop giving.

(Flickr/Hamed S.)
Discussions of money in politics are usually steeped in watery metaphors: The Supreme Court's recent Citizens United decision will "open the floodgates" of corporate money, we're told, which will "drown" or "swamp" the voice of ordinary citizens. Skeptics of campaign finance regulation warn that, like damming a river, it will only divert the flow to other channels. Permit me to extend the soggy simile for just a few lines more: In the case of water, floods and dambreaks make headlines, but far more human suffering and strife is caused by too little water than by an excess of it. And the same is true of political money. While political reformers still sometimes lapse into slogans like, "Get money out of politics," or bemoan the total amount spent, in fact, a scarcity of money for campaigns is a source of far more trouble than an excess is. To see what I mean, consider two hypothetical political environments. In one, every credible candidate for office is a mini Obama, with fairly easy...