Fred Wertheimer is the Founder and President of Democracy 21, a nonpartisan, nonprofit, organization that works to strengthen our democracy, to ensure the integrity of our elections and government decisions and to engage and empower citizens in the political process. The organization’s primary focus is campaign finance issues and laws and it promotes government integrity, transparency and accountability policies to accomplish its goals.
Democracy 21 and its affiliated organization, Democracy 21 Education Fund engage in activities that include public and media education efforts, the development and promotion of public policy proposals, litigation and other legal efforts, watchdog activities, serving as a national spokesperson on campaign finance issues, and pursuing an Internet Project to use technology to change the way campaigns are financed.
Wertheimer has spent four decades working on democracy and governance issues. He is a recognized national leader and spokesman on money in politics, campaign finance reform and related government reform measures. Wertheimer has led successful lobbying campaigns in Congress to enact major campaign finance laws and lobbying and ethics reforms.
NPR described Wertheimer as “A central figure in the opposition network,” that scrutinizes issues involving the Trump administration’s ethics and transparency. NPR also has described him as “one of the progressive movement’s leading strategists on ethics and campaign finance laws since the 1980s.”
Wertheimer has been described by The New York Times as “the dean of campaign finance reformers,” by Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne as “the eminence grise of the campaign finance movement” and by Time Magazine as “a godfather of the campaign finance reform movement.” He has been described by the Boston Globe as a “legendary open-government activist” and by the Los Angeles Times as the “patriarch of campaign reform advocates.” The Washington Post said “Democracy 21 is one of Washington’s foremost watchdog groups.”
Wertheimer’s efforts have been recognized by Legal Times, which in 2008 named him as one of the 90 greatest lawyers in Washington of the last thirty years. The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, has named him on numerous occasions as one of Washington’s top lobbyists, including in 2016.
Wertheimer is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Harvard Law School and served from 1981 to 1995 as President of Common Cause, a national citizens’ advocacy group. He served as a Fellow at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy (1996) and as J. Skelly Wright Fellow and Visiting Lecturer at Yale Law School (1997). He also has served as a political analyst and consultant for CBS News, ABC News, and ABC’s Nightline.
Wertheimer has played a key role in every major campaign finance reform battle in Congress beginning with the post-Watergate campaign finance reforms in 1974. He has also participated as a lawyer in every major Supreme Court campaign finance case beginning with the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision.
Former White House Counsel to President Obama, Bob Bauer, said about the role Wertheimer has played over the years, “Few individuals who set out to shape policy have had the staying power, or had the results to show for the effort, that Wertheimer can claim.”
Wertheimer coordinates a weekly meeting/conference call by a coalition of reform organizations to discuss reform strategies and approaches. Wertheimer also coordinates the Democracy 21 legal team, led by the WilmerHale law firm and senior partner and former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman. The team defends the constitutionality of campaign finance laws and their proper interpretation in the courts.
Democracy 21 has joined with Blue State Digital and its founder Joe Rospars to pursue new ways to use the Internet and new media to dramatically increase the role of small donors in financing our elections. Rospars led the breakthrough fundraising campaigns for the 2008 and 2012 Obama presidential campaigns that raised online more than one billion dollars.
A number of major campaign finance reform proposals currently pending in Congress were developed by Democracy 21 working with members of Congress.
Wertheimer is the author of “Campaign Finance Reform: The Unfinished Agenda,” published in the Annals of the American Academy of Political Science and Social Science and of “TV Ad Wars: How to Reduce the Costs of Television Advertising in our Political Campaigns,” published in the Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics. He is the coauthor of “Campaign Finance Reform: A Key to Restoring the Health of Our Democracy,” published in The Columbia Law Review.
Wertheimer is a recipient of the COGEL Award for outstanding service in the cause of open and democratic government, given by the Council on Governmental Ethics Laws, an organization of state and federal ethics enforcement officials. He has received honorary degrees from Colby College, Grinnell College, and the Claremont University Graduate School.
Wertheimer is married to award winning journalist Linda Wertheimer, Senior National Correspondent for National Public Radio and a regular substitute host on NPR’s morning news magazine shows.