Cleaning up Campaign Finance
Edmund Sauer ’00 of Bardstown, Ky., celebrated his birthday in May with a bit of good news. On the day he turned 22, he learned that he would spend a year in Canada, courtesy of a Fulbright.
Sauer will explore campaign financing while earning a master’s degree at Queen’s University in Ontario. Unlike the United States, Canada strictly limits the amount candidates can spend on their campaigns. His mentor at Queen’s sat on the national commission that helped reform the Canadian system. Sauer hopes to pick up some tips that might work back home.
Year after year, he says, campaign finance reforms are proposed in Washington but nothing is passed. One argument used is that restricting political contributions would limit the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. Part of Sauer’s research will be to see if Canadian candidates can get their messages out to voters in spite of financing restrictions.
An economics and government major-as well as the tennis team’s No. 1 player-Sauer’s lifelong fascination with politics began as a child handing out leaflets door to door with his mother. Since then, he’s worked on countless political races, interned in a senator’s Washington, D.C., office, and led the Centre Democrats to become the largest campus chapter in the state.
Yet Sauer’s faith in the political system has been tempered by reality. “When I was a kid, politics was balloons and parties and meeting people,” he says. “I’m not so idealistic now. Now I know it’s picking up the phone to ask people for money. I just hate that part.”
Last year Sauer won a Truman Fellowship (for students interested in careers in public service), in part on the strength of his application’s proposal to reform campaign financing. He plans to go to law school immediately after his Fulbright year, but says he would ultimately love to work for the Federal Election Commission, either prosecuting offenders or helping to interpret the laws.
For a different perspective on money, Sauer spent the summer on a Truman-sponsored internship at the U.S. Mint. He traveled the country helping to market the new Sacagawea dollar coin and worked on econometric models to predict the number of all coins that the Mint will need to produce.
“The Truman award changed my life,” says Sauer. It’s not just the prestige, the internships, or even the $30,000 in scholarship money. Instead, says Sauer, “It’s the connections, the Truman community. It’s the people in public service and political life that can help you accomplish whatever you want.”
With those connections–and his Canadian insights–perhaps Sauer will bring financing reform to America at last.
By Diane F. Johnson