November 18, 2011
Former White House Counsel Robert Bauer addressed students at Harvard Law School in October, sharing his insights on the lawyer’s role in law and politics. Bauer, who served as counsel to President Obama from November 2009 to June 2011, is currently a partner at Perkins Coie and is now representing the president’s re-election team and the Democratic National Committee.
Bauer spoke about the history of the White House counsel role, which began formally during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration. “The controversies began when the role of the White House Counsel became professionalized in a more conventional model,” said Bauer. “The question began to be raised whether a lawyer to the President, in the White House, could remain fully professional in method and aim, or would run the risk of serving as a hired hand, ladling out to the chief executive whatever advice was expedient.”
Bauer argues, however, that it was important that the Counsel bring zeal for politics to the position, or points could be missed and relevant advice overlooked.
During the question-and-answer portion of the lecture, Bauer expressed his opinions on campaign finance, the Watergate regulations, and the use of Super PAC’s in the upcoming election. “This whole area is going to have to be rethought from the ground up. There is a political deadlock, a regulatory deadlock, and a constitutional decision-making trend, that I think has completely overwhelmed the Watergate reforms. I don’t think we’re going to live in a country in which people tolerate a free-for-all on money, where those who have the most basically carry the debate and hope to carry the day. I think that there’s going to be some serious thinking about how the structure we currently have, as damaged as it is, can be rebuilt perhaps along some more modern lines and I think a lot of attention is being devoted to that.”