The Reform Institute

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The Reform Institute is an American non-partisan, not-for-profit think tank based in Alexandria, VA that describes itself as centrist oriented. According to its website it is an "organization working to strengthen the foundations of our democracy and build a resilient society. The Institute formulates and advocates valuable, solutions-based reform in vital areas of public policy."[1]

The major policy areas the institute focuses on are energy and environmental policy, homeland and national security, economic opportunity and competitiveness, immigration reform, and governance and election reform. It states its vision as "to build a more resilient nation that is able to overcome the challenges we collectively face and emerge as a stronger country. A resilient nation requires: a fully transparent and accountable government, a citizenry that is actively engaged in the political process and has genuine access to the wealth of opportunities that the free market has to offer, and institutions and infrastructure capable of facilitating and taking full advantage of the ingenuity and determination of the American people by promoting private sector innovation."[2]

The Institute was criticized during the 2000 decade as an extension of Senator John McCain's political ambitions.[3] The New York Times described the Institute in this fashion: "In a small office a few miles from Capitol Hill, a handful of top advisers to Senator John McCain run a quiet campaign. They promote his crusade against special interest money in politics. They send out news releases promoting his initiatives. And they raise money--hundreds of thousands of dollars, tapping some McCain backers for more than $50,000 each." [4]


The Reform Institute was launched in 2001 and grew from the movement to challenge campaign finance practices such as unlimited and undisclosed "soft money" donations. The initial bipartisan honorary co-chairs of the institute's Advisory Committee were Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and former Senator Robert Kerrey (D-NE). Senator McCain served in the position from 2001–2005. Senator Kerrey was associated with the committee until 2008.

The institute was a part of the broad coalition that successfully secured passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 – also known as McCain-Feingold – the campaign finance reform legislation that among other things prohibited soft money contributions. The Institute then turned its focus to defending the law against Constitutional challenge and ensuring that it was properly enforced by advocating for the restructuring of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and calling for regulation of 527 groups operating outside the law's soft money ban.

In addition to its work at the federal level, the institute also engaged in efforts at the state and local level to enact reforms including initiatives on public campaign funding of state and local elections, redistricting reform to eliminate Gerrymandering of electoral districts, ballot access, open primaries, and election administration and voter assistance.

After passage of the McCain-Feingold bill the Institute expanded its agenda to other public policy areas. However, as of April, 2011, its web page was no longer active and links to it were broken. The Institute did not file form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service for 2009.

Recent initiatives[edit]

In the homeland security field the institute has articulated the need for resilience – the ability to withstand and quickly recover from a catastrophic event – to be given equal weight to preventing terrorist attacks in U.S. homeland security policy.[5] It convened a March 2008 national symposium[6][7] on the subject in New York City and has advanced the concept in Congressional testimony[8] and publications.[9]

On immigration the institute has advocated for comprehensive immigration reform – reasoning that balancing security and enforcement with meeting the workforce and economic needs of the country are the best way to fix the nation's broken immigration system. In 2007 the institute partnered with Brickfish in an online contest to draw attention to the issue by encouraging entrants to express the message they thought the border fence conveyed by virtually designing a portion of it.[10][11] The viral campaign was recognized by Forrester Research with its Groundswell Award for Social Impact.[12]

The institute's political reform work has included endorsing the successful California Proposition 11 (2008) redistricting ballot initiative, partnering in a national voter assistance hotline in 2008,[13] warning of the threats to judicial independence of the rising sums being raised and spent in judicial elections,[14] supporting public campaign financing initiatives in states like Maryland, Hawaii and Wisconsin, and offering recommendations for Congressional reform.[15]

The institute's energy and environment program includes helping make the smart grid a reality and promoting the need for comprehensive energy reform through an April 2009 national symposium[16] in Washington, DC and publications.

The Reform Institute is led by Executive Director Cecilia I. Martinez. Its Board of Directors is chaired by Paul Bateman of the Klein & Saks Group and includes Charles Kolb of the Committee for Economic Development, Lawrence Hebert of the Dominion Advisory Group and political consultant Pam Pryor.

The institute's Advisory Committee consists of many academics, corporate executives and policy makers who help to guide the organization's policy program. Notable members of the Advisory Committee include Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), former Senator David Boren (D-OK), former Congressman Charles Bass (R-NH), Timothy Farrell of Bank of America, Marie Royce of Alcatel-Lucent, Marc Spitzer of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Matthew Freedman of Global Impact, Inc., Don Murphy of Genn & Murphy, LLC, Robert Kelly of CenTauri Solutions, LLC, Ken Nahigian of Nahigian Strategies, LLC, Dan Ortiz of the University of Virginia School of Law, Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution, and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute.

  • Key Reform Institute Staff and Advisors
  • Cecilia I. Martinez, Executive Director
  • Robert W. Kelly, Senior Advisor, Homeland and National Security Center
  • Kenneth Nahigian, Senior Advisor, Center for Energy and Environmental Progress
  • Dan Ortiz, Legal Advisor
  • Chris Dreibelbis, Communications and Economic Policy Director
  • Sarah Lieu, Director of Operations and Events


  1. ^ About Us. Reform Institute. Retrieved 0n 2009-04-04.
  2. ^ Our Vision. Reform Institute. Retrieved on 2009-04-04
  3. ^ [1] Reason Magazine, John McCain's War on Political Speech
  4. ^ [2] McCain Allies Want Reform - and Money, March 8, 2005
  5. ^ Reform and Resilience. Reform Institute.
  6. ^ An Informed Discussion on Resilience - Courtesy of the Reform Institute. Security DeBrief. March 31, 2008.
  7. ^ Building A Resilient Nation: Enhancing Security, Ensuring a Strong Economy. National Symposium. March 2008.
  8. ^ Testimony of Robert W. Kelly, Senior Advisor, The Reform Institute. Before the Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism of the Committee on Homeland Security, U.S. House of Representatives. May 7, 2008.
  9. ^ Building A Resilient Nation: Enhancing Security and Ensuring a Strong Economy report. Reform Institute. October 2008.
  10. ^ Design Your Portion of the Border Fence. BrickFish.
  11. ^ Message from the border: Immigration and the Millennium Generation. Paramus Post. Nov. 13, 2007.
  12. ^ Eight great applications win Forrester Groundswell awards. Oct. 12, 2007.
  13. ^ Voting hotline gets 3,000 complaints an hour. Nov. 4, 2008.
  14. ^ West Virginia: Reform Institute files amicus brief on campaign contributions received by state-court justice. Votelaw. Aug. 4, 2008.
  15. ^ House passes reform bill critics say falls short. The Swamp. Chicago Tribune Washington Bureau. July 31, 2007.
  16. ^ Reforming American Energy: Encouraging Innovation, Producing Solutions symposium. April 2009.

External links[edit]