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Alum talks Citizens United at the Ford School

Virginia Lozano/Daily
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By Neala Berkowski, For the Daily
Published February 3, 2014

University alum Heather Gerken, a law professor at Yale University, spoke about issues related to the historic Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case to more than 100 attendees. The 2010 case granted corporations the financial rights of individuals in regards to campaign finance, “dark money” and shadow parties.

Undergraduate and graduate students in the Ford School of Public Policy, students from the Law School and community members were among those in attendance for Gerken’s three-part presentation.

In the first section, Gerken offered a brief history of campaign finance reform. She argued that Citizens United plays an important role in the relationship between independent spending and corruption.

Later, she explained how the court’s decision may push the party system toward one dominated by powerful “shadow parties.” Gerken added that “shadow parties” risk undermine the influence of the “party faithful,” who connect party elites to everyday citizens.

Audience members were given notecards to write down questions and people watching a live stream of the event tweeted their questions at the Ford School.

“I have to say (the Ford students) asked fantastic questions, and I have a lot of hats,” Gerken said before the event. “I’ve been an elections lawyer for the Obama campaign, I’ve done reform work, and they had good questions on pretty much every topic. And for me this stuff is like popcorn, so I’m happy to munch along.”

“She is an important voice in the field and the topic was interesting,” Rackham student Conor McKay said. “The more that people know about these issues, understand these issues and can hear what’s in the media and get a sense of what they’re actually talking about, the better.”

After the lecture, a reception was held outside the auditorium to allow students, faculty and community members to eat and continue the conversation.

“I thought it was very thought-provoking,” Rackham student Dana Sherry said. “I was impressed by her overall presence.”

Gerken said she learned a lot about election law while attending the University’s Law School in the early 1990s.

“I was one of the first Darrow Scholars at the Law School, so Michigan gave me a free ride which was amazing,” she said. “I had the good fortune to be mentored by one of the founders of the field.”

On March 27, the Ford School will be hosting human rights activist, Paul Rusesabagina, who saved the lives of more than 1,200 people during the Rwandan Genocide. His actions are famously documented in the movie “Hotel Rwanda.”