Commentary

At FEC Forum, Academic Calls for Mandating Number of Women Politicians

Hans von Spakovsky
By Hans von Spakovsky | May 28, 2015 | 10:44 AM EDT

Shown at right is FEC Chairwoman Ann Ravel. (AP Photo/FEC)

Earlier this month, I predicted that a scheduled hearing at the Federal Election Commission was shaping up to be nothing more than a presentation of “the goofy gender ideology and politics of the progressive left and academia.” And, oh, how right I was.

The May 12 forum on “Women in Politics” was organized by FEC Chairwoman Ann Ravel without the approval of any of her colleagues and outside the legal authority of the FEC’s authorizing statute. Its avowed purpose: to “begin an open discussion” of why women are supposedly “significantly underrepresented in politics.”

According to CNS News, which sent a reporter to the event, the academics and other campaign finance amateurs on the panels proposed everything from imposing gender quotas on political offices to getting rid of American capitalism entirely. Really.

The executive director of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, Adrienne Kimmell, for example, said the right way to get more women into political positions—if she were “really playing God”—would be to “completely dismantle our economic system” because it “doesn’t value women’s work in the same way it does men’s.” Unfortunately, God wasn’t allowed to play a role in the major alternative to our economic system, the Soviet Union, before it fell apart.

It should come as no surprise that Harvard professor Pippa Norris favors a slightly less comprehensive but no less radical plan: completely overhauling our campaign finance system. She suggested limiting the amount of money that political parties and candidates can spend on their campaigns, a restriction that the U.S. Supreme Court held unconstitutional in Buckley v. Valeo (1976). When you limit how much a candidate can spend, you are directly restricting her political speech by limiting how much speech she can engage in. Norris sees no problem with this, citing the fact that in Britain, campaigns can spend only “$15,000 to $20,000 maximum, basically.” “You can’t buy ads,” she said. “You shove a pamphlet through peoples’ doors, that’s it, and then you meet people.”

For one, Norris does not seem to grasp the enormous geographic and demographic differences between a British parliamentary district and U.S. Senate and congressional districts, which are far larger than the relatively small districts in which British candidates campaign.

But more bizarrely, this means her solution to getting more women in politics in the U.S. is making sure they 1) can’t place TV or radio political ads to raise their profile with potential voters, 2) can’t raise enough money to run an effective campaign in large districts, and 3) are limited to “shoving a pamphlet through peoples’ doors.” How that would help women candidates who are challenging incumbents is beyond comprehension.

Another professor, Pace University’s Darren Rosenblum, voiced his support for quotas mandating that a certain number of candidates or elected officials be women, calling them “mechanisms to encourage women’s representation.” (Professor Norris backed the idea, too.) Rosenblum apparently does not understand the difference between “encouragement” and using the power of the government to force the electorate to engage in certain behavior. He sees nothing wrong, apparently, with actually limiting the choice of voters to candidates that meet certain genetic requirements. Unfortunately for Rosenblum (a law professor) but fortunately for all of the rest of us, such quotas would be fundamentally unconstitutional and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

I am sure that American taxpayers are overjoyed that a federal agency held a hearing on a nonexistent problem so that a group of academics could present their inane theories to solve it—theories that, if implemented, would restrict basic liberties and freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights.

During the golden age of radio, Jimmy Durante once said that politics developed more comedians than radio ever did. Based on the testimony at Chairwoman Ravel’s FEC hearing, today it seems that academia is giving both a run for their money.

Hans von Spakovsky is an authority on a wide range of issues—including civil rights, civil justice, the First Amendment, immigration, the rule of law and government reform—as a senior legal fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies and manager of the think tank’s Election Law Reform Initiative.

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by The Heritage Foundation


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