Skip to Main Content

The Atlantic Features Trevor Potter in: The New Price of American Politics

September 20, 2012, The Atlantic

Excerpt taken from the article.

Not since the Gilded Age has our politics been opened so wide to corporate contributions and donations from secret sources. And the new era of big money has just begun. Jim Bopp, its intellectual architect, believes this is a good thing—the more money, the better, he says. Reformers (and most voters) disagree. Their battle is over the most-basic ideas of our democracy; at stake—according to both sides—is either the revitalization of politics, or its final capture by the powerful.


In the parallel political world—a world in which more money, more anonymity, and more spending by non­candidates are bad things, dangerous to democracy—­the most plausible candidate to be Bopp's foil is the lawyer Trevor Potter. Potter is also a midwesterner (from neighboring Illinois) and a Republican; like Bopp, Potter got his earliest political experience volunteering for Barry Goldwater. But his own love of constitutional law, study of the Founders, and adventures in Republican politics sent him down a very different intellectual path. Potter was one of the leading lawyers behind the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, known as McCain-Feingold, the most significant campaign-finance law in 30 years. To a large extent, it is Potter's work that Bopp has been systematically gutting. "Jim has always been in the position of making arguments that other people thought were wild-eyed, went too far," Potter told me, a little ruefully. "And he's proved them wrong.

Potter came to campaign finance five years after Bopp, via a presidential campaign. He was a fledgling Washington lawyer when Vice President George H. W. Bush assigned his firm the task of setting up the exploratory committee for his 1988 run. Potter ended up as the campaign's deputy general counsel. During the primaries, he was stunned by how one of Bush's opponents, Pat Robertson, evaded the rules governing disclosure and spending, using his corporate plane and his Christian Broadcasting Network to campaign. Even though his guy won, Potter remained troubled. "For me," he said in one of several conversations over the past few months at his present D.C. firm, Caplin & Drysdale, "the takeaway was that the system wasn't working. Bush was playing by the rules, Robertson wasn't, and Robert­son got away with it." Where Bopp encountered a system that seemed devised to shut some groups out, Potter found one that seemed meant to treat candidates equally, but instead was being abused by some for unfair advantage. Bopp began suing the FEC, battering away from the outside; Potter surprised the Bush White House by saying he would like to become a commissioner at the FEC. He wanted to fix it.

Please go to this link to read more and click here to view a video of the interview.


About Caplin & Drysdale
Celebrating our 55th Anniversary in 2019, Caplin & Drysdale continues to be a leading provider of legal services to corporations, individuals, and nonprofits throughout the United States and around the world. We are also privileged to serve as legal advisors to accounting firms, financial institutions, law firms, and other professional services organizations.

The firm's reputation over the years has earned us the trust and respect of clients, industry peers, and government agencies. Moreover, clients rely on our broad knowledge of the law and our keen insights into their business concerns and personal interests. Our lawyers' strong tactical and problem-solving skills -- combined with substantial experience handling a variety of complex, high stakes, matters in a boutique environment -- make us one the nation's most distinctive law firms.

With offices in New York City and Washington, D.C., Caplin & Drysdale's core practice areas include:
For more information, please visit us at
Washington, DC Office:
One Thomas Circle NW
Suite 1100
Washington, DC 20005
New York, NY Office:
600 Lexington Avenue
21st Floor
New York, NY 10022


This communication does not provide legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship with you or any other reader. If you require legal guidance in any specific situation, you should engage a qualified lawyer for that purpose. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Attorney Advertising
It is possible that under the laws, rules, or regulations of certain jurisdictions, this may be construed as an advertisement or solicitation.
©2021 Caplin & Drysdale, Chartered
All Rights Reserved.

Related Professionals

Related Practice Area(s)