The Carr Center for Human Rights Policy serves as the hub of the Harvard Kennedy School’s research, teaching, and training in the human rights domain. The center embraces a dual mission: to educate students and the next generation of leaders from around the world in human rights policy and practice; and to convene and provide policy-relevant knowledge to international organizations, governments, policymakers, and businesses.
As Yogi Berra once said, “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.” Nothing could be truer when it comes to money in American politics. In the 2000 election, candidates and outside groups spent a combined $3 billion on the presidential and congressional races. Not two decades later, in 2016, the amount spent more than doubled to a combined $6.5 billion. For 2020, forecasters project that the total amount spent on political advertising alone will reach $10 billion.
There’s a simple reason for this exponential rise in political expenditures: the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment to preclude the regulation of many aspects of campaign finance. That decision in 1976 first opened the floodgates of contributions to political campaigns.
"Nowhere is money felt more than in the explosion of spending by outside groups to elect and influence candidates in the past decade, which have simultaneously increased amounts while decreasing accountability."
In this issue of the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the U.S. paper series, the authors outline how the bipartisan use of money in politics undermines the democratic process.
After more than a century of expanding the voting rights of previously disenfranchised groups, the American electoral system today is confronted by political and legal maneuvers to curtail the hard-won rights of these same groups, ostensibly in the name of combating fraud and regulating voting, but actually to change the outcome of elections.
"Political campaigns to suppress or dilute votes corrode democracy, frustrate the popular will, and stimulate polarization."
Attacks on the integrity of the electoral system are not new. Throughout the 19th and much of the 20th century dominant political forces suppressed voting by African Americans and other minorities, women, immigrants, and young people. Manipulation of voting in the 20th century included racist suppression of African American votes, first by Democrats and later by Republicans. These practices are blatant examples of the vulnerability of the electoral process to partisan manipulation and the necessity of reform to safeguard voting rights, especially among these vulnerable groups.
In his timely addition to the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilites in the U.S. paper series, authors John Shattuck, Mathias Risse, and team outline the expansion of the vote through history, the disproportionate impact of voter suppression, and propose a set of policy recommendations accordingly.
The Carr Center is pleased to launch its 2019-2020 Annual Report. Take a look at our work, and learn how to get involved.
We hope that you remain engaged with our work in the coming months. After all, human rights are not just about institutions, laws, and policies. They are about people coming together, hoping to make the world and their communities a better place—more just, more equitable, and more peaceful.
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“The Carr Center is building a bridge between ideas on human rights and the practice on the ground. Right now we are at a critical juncture. The pace of technological change and the rise of authoritarian governments are both examples of serious challenges to the flourishing of individual rights. It’s crucial that Harvard and the Kennedy School continue to be a major influence in keeping human rights ideals alive. The Carr Center is a focal point for this important task.”
- Mathias Risse