Richard L. Hasen is the Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine, and the author of Plutocrats United: Campaign Money, the Supreme Court, and the Distortion of American Elections. Before giving a lecture at Zócalo on the effects of loose campaign finance laws on American politics, he talked in the Zócalo green room about idolizing Jimmy Carter, podcasting, and watching dads getting hurt on hoverboards.
What got you interested in election law?
It was an accident. I started graduate school in political science, but my advisor and I didn’t get along, so on a lark I decided to go to law school. One of the classes I took was about election law.
Temperamentally, how do you approach an election year? Do you get excited, terrified?
The first few election seasons after Bush vs. Gore, I was terrified that we were going to have another meltdown—like people who study nuclear physics worry about a nuclear meltdown. Now, I don’t worry as much. Usually around September, I start getting calls from journalists who want to know why nothing has been fixed, and my answer is because you guys haven’t been paying attention for six months.
You’ve spent most of your adult life in California, but you did teach for a few years in Chicago. How did you make it through that first winter?
Yes, your blood does thin when you move west. I remember when I first went to Chicago, all my colleagues explained to me what kind of coat you need to buy for the winter. They said it has to be thick enough to stand on its own.
If you were about to perform at a talent show instead of give a lecture, what would you perform?
Eating? I have no talents. I can’t sing, I can’t dance. I’m not very well-coordinated.
You’re a longtime writer, but you’ve also recently started podcasting. What was the inspiration for that?
It’s an experiment. It’s very low-tech—the only thing that keeps it from being unintelligible is my 16-year-old son, who knows how to run Garage Band—but I’ve had some very interesting people on it. Some people I agree with, some I don’t, but it’s an opportunity to allow people to share their wisdom.
If the podcast wasn’t about law and elections, what would it be about?
I’m interested in travel—hearing about other people’s travel. It would be: “Where should I go next?”
Who’s someone you looked up to when you were growing up?
Jimmy Carter. As an adult, I had the chance to meet him. I said, “You’ve been my hero since I was a child.” He was one of the most gracious people who’d been in power that I’ve ever met.
Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Trek. In fact, I have a scar from a Star Trek convention that I went to as a child. At one point, when I was in a bathroom, someone shut the lights off on me. I banged on a full-length mirror that I thought was a door, and broke it with my bare hands.
What’s an object you own that means a lot to you?
My dog, Layla. I love her, so I don’t think she’s an object, but I just taught my students today about how [legally] dogs are property.
What’s your opinion on hoverboards?
I think the dads should stay off them. Twitter is full of dads getting hurt on them. And that makes me think of the liability lawsuits that will come from them catching on fire.