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Charleston to host forum on Citizens United, super PACs

Role of Government Symposium to feature national political figures

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One of the most talked-about Supreme Court decisions in the 2012 presidential election cycle has been Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a 5-4 ruling from 2010 that opened the floodgates for campaign spending by corporations and unions. Friday morning, a panel of well-known speakers will discuss the post-Citizens United campaign landscape in a free symposium presented by the Charleston Law Review and Furman University's Riley Institute.

The Role of Government Symposium, which will feature political panel discussions throughout the day, kicks off with appearances by two heavy hitters in the debate over super PACs, the new breed of political action committees that permit unlimited campaign spending by individuals and corporations due to the fact they are not technically affiliated with one particular candidate (although they frequently pay for advertisements either attacking or supporting candidates). One of the speakers is James Bopp, a renowned conservative attorney from Indiana who advised the nonprofit corporation Citizens United in its Supreme Court case. He established the Republican Super PAC in May 2011 and famously told the Wall Street Journal, in response to criticisms of the organization, ""The Supreme Court doesn't care, and I don't care, and the [Federal Election Commission] doesn't care. No one that matters cares."

Bopp will participate in a panel discussion Friday morning with four other speakers, but his biggest critic on the panel will likely be Bob Edgar, president and CEO of the open-government nonprofit lobbying group Common Cause. He previously served as a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania in the 1970s and '80s.

"We believe that this year, 2012, will be the most moneyed political election in the history of the United States," Edgar says. "James Bopp will be pleased with that."

Edgar is a proponent of publicly financed elections, in which candidates accept taxpayer dollars to fund their campaigns in exchange for an agreement that they will place certain limits on their private fundraising. He was involved with the push to publicly fund campaigns in Connecticut, a measure that passed in time for the 2008 election cycle but was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court in 2009 after third-party candidates complained that the system discriminated in favor of major-party candidates.

"Corporations are not people. Money is not speech," Edgar says. "If we want to have a nation where people are represented by political leaders who represent them as opposed to spec interests, this is the time for some courageous action."

A smaller-scale version of the national super PAC issue arose during the 2011 mayoral campaign in Charleston. An anonymous group calling itself Citizens for a Better Charleston sent out mailers criticizing incumbent Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. and praising his opponent, City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie, as a Reagan-style conservative. Riley called on the group's members to reveal themselves, but their identities were protected by a 2010 decision in Florence by a U.S. district judge, who ruled that political action committees that are not officially affiliated with a candidate have no contribution limits or filing requirements.

Edgar and Bopp's panel discussion will be the first of the day on Friday. All of the events will take place at the Charleston Music Hall (37 John St.). They are free and open to the public, although attorneys seeking CLE credit will be charged $125 for tuition. A.E. Dick Howard, a law and public affairs professor from the Virginia School of Law, will give the keynote address tonight at 5 p.m., and Friday's schedule is as follows:

* 8 a.m. Registration

* 8:30 a.m. Introduction & Welcome (Mollie Brunworth, Editor in Chief, Charleston Law Review; Donald L. Gordon, Ph.D., Executive Director, The Riley Institute at Furman; Sheila B. Scheuerman, Associate Professor of Law, Charleston School of Law)

* 8:45 a.m. Panel One: Campaign Financing After Citizens United (Moderator William M. Janssen, Associate Professor of Law, Charleston School of Law; James Bopp, Jr., Partner, The Bopp Law Firm; Bob Edgar, President & CEO, Common Cause; Kyle Langvardt, Lecturer in Business Law and Ethics, Indiana University Kelley School of Business; James F. M. Williams, Executive Director, Get Money Out Foundation)

* 10 a.m. Panel Two: The Changing Political Landscape—The Impact of Third Parties (Moderator James F. M. Williams, Executive Director, Get Money Out Foundation; Donald P. Aiesi, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science, Furman University; Jeri O. Cabot, Ph.D., Dean of Students and Adjunct Professor of Political Science, College of Charleston; Robert D. Inglis, former United States Representative)

* 11 a.m. Panel Three: Immigration and States' Rights (Moderator Allyson Haynes, Associate Professor of Law, Charleston School of Law; Reginald I. Lloyd, Partner, The Lloyd Law Firm; Patricia S. Ravenhorst, Director/Attorney, South Carolina Immigrant Victim Network; Azadeh Shahshahani, Director of the National Security/Immigrants' Rights Project, ACLU of Georgia; Ilya Shapiro, Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies, Cato Institute)

* 12:15 p.m. Lunch on your own

* 1:30 p.m. Panel Four: Rights, Marriage, and the Government (Moderator Debra J. Gammons, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law, Charleston School of Law; Jack Harrison, Assistant Professor, Salmon P. Chase College of Law, Northern Kentucky University)

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