What We Do

Promoting Full Enfranchisement Through Campaign Finance Reform

NVRI believes that this extreme inequality denies persons of color and low-income communities their fundamental right to full political participation. The right to vote, and to run for office, is critical to a democracy. As the Supreme Court in the 1964 Wesberry v. Sanders case said, "No right is more precious in a free country than having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined." In every area of its work, NVRI seeks to fulfill the constitution’s promise of equal political participation for all.

In defending campaign finance reforms, NVRI seeks to help preserve the steps toward equal participation made through the ballot initiative or legislative process.

Working with civil rights across the country, NVRI in 1999 helped found the Fannie Lou Hamer Project, a grassroots effort to link the civil rights and campaign finance reform movements. Named for a courageous fighter for voting rights in Mississippi, the Project works within the civil rights and campaign finance reform communities to build coalitions, educate the public, and mobilize activism for campaign finance reform as a civil rights issue.

When Georgia doubled the amount that a donor may give to a candidate, NVRI urged the U.S. Department of Justice to block the state's move as a civil rights violation under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Representing the NAACP, the Southern Regional Council, the Georgia Rural-Urban Summit, and the Fannie Lou Hamer Project, NVRI documented the disparities in Georgia's campaign financing that would be exacerbated by a higher contribution ceiling, and argued that the new law had discriminatory effects.

Responding to these charges, the Department of Justice required Georgia to provide more information about the effects of its new limits on minority communities. While the Department ultimately let the new campaign finance law go into effect, this was the first time that the Department considered the discriminatory effects of contribution hikes as a possible violation of the Act.

NVRI in February 2001 submitted a statement to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) outlining the ways in which U.S. campaign finance practices discriminate against minorities. This statement was among many that the International Human Rights Law Group presented to the CERD to document U.S. non-compliance with treaty obligations under the International Covenant on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

In lawsuits challenging the Wealth Primary, NVRI represents voters, candidates and groups excluded from political participation by the massive financing required for modern campaigns. These lawsuits ask courts to order public financing of elections as a remedy for the denial of equal protection of the laws to non-wealthy citizens.

NVRI's public education efforts seek to build public awareness of the inequalities created by our system of private campaign financing. Together with the Howard University School of Law, NVRI in February 1999 hosted a symposium, "Campaign Finance as a Civil Rights Issue," which gathered over 200 activists, civil rights workers, students and academics from across the country to share thoughts and strategies.

In April 2001, NVRI, the Fannie Lou Hamer Project, and the Gordon Public Policy Center at Brandeis University sponsored a follow-up working conference entitled, "Campaign Finance and the Equality Promise: Building a Multiracial Movement for Reform." Chaired by Professor Roger Wilkins, a veteran of the civil rights movement and noted historian, this meeting aims to create a consensus among civil rights and campaign finance activist and scholars for moving forward together.