Professor Richard Briffault

Richard Briffault

  • Joseph P. Chamberlain Professor of Legislation

J.D., Harvard University, 1977
B.A., Columbia University, 1974

Areas of Specialty

Campaign Finance Regulation
Government Ethics
Law of the Political Process
State and Local Government Law

Since joining the Columbia Law School faculty in 1983, Richard Briffault has combined public and government service with teaching, research, and scholarship. He is the Law School’s authority on state and local government; the news media often turns to him for his expert insight into and analysis of issues central to democracy and the political process such as campaign finance reform, government ethics, gerrymandering, and fair elections. He is also a leading thinker on “the new preemption,” a critique of states that are increasingly passing ideological laws that override local ordinances. Working with the Local Solutions Support Center, he educates city and county government officials on how to respond to state preemption.

Briffault is a pillar of the Columbia Law School community. He has served as a vice dean at three different times during his career. He sits on the advisory boards of the Law School’s Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity and the Public Interest/Public Service Fellows Program, and on the board of directors of the Columbia Journal of Law & Social Problems.

A prodigious scholar, Briffault has written more than 75 law review and journal articles as well as books and monographs, including Dollars and Democracy: A Blueprint for Campaign Finance Reform; Cleaning Up Hazardous Waste: Is There a Better Way?; and the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth editions of the casebook State and Local Government Law.

Before becoming an academic, Briffault was a clerk to Judge Shirley M. Hufstedler of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, an assistant counsel to New York Governor Hugh L. Carey, and an associate at Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison. During his tenure at Columbia Law, he has served as a member of, or consultant to, an array of New York state and city commissions, including the New York State Moreland Act Commission to Investigate Public Corruption. From 2014 to 2020, Briffault served as chair of the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board. He is the reporter for the American Law Institute’s Project on Principles of Government Ethics and vice-chair of the Citizens Union of the City of New York.


  • “A Better Financing System? The Death—and Possible Rebirth—of the Presidential Nomination Public Financing Program,” and “Constitutional Law and the Presidential Nomination Process,” in The Best Candidate: Presidential Nomination in Polarized Times (Eugene D. Mazo & Michael Dimino, eds., Cambridge Univ. Press 2020)
  • “Principles of Home Rule for the Twenty-First Century” (National League of Cities, Feb. 12, 2020), with Nestor M. Davidson, Paul A. Diller, Sarah Fox, Laurie Reynolds, Erin A. Scharff, Richard Schragger, and Rick Su
  • The New Preemption Reader: Legislation, Cases and Commentary on the Leading Challenge in Today’s State and Local Government Law (West Academic Publishing 2019, with Nestor Davidson and Laurie Reynolds)
  • “The Single-Subject Rule: A State Constitutional Dilemma,” 82 Albany L. Rev. 1629 (2019) 
  • “The Challenge of the New Preemption,” 70 Stanford Law Review 1995 (2018)
  • “Local Autonomy and Constitutional Law: An Uncertain Relationship,” in Law Between Buildings: Emergent Global Perspectives in Urban Law (Nisha Mistry and Nestor M. Davidson, eds., Routledge  2017)
  • “CON: Resolved, Congress should remove the caps on the amount that individuals can contribute to candidates for federal office,” in Debating Reform: Conflicting Perspectives on How to Fix the American Political System (Richard J. Ellis & Michael Nelson, eds., Sage CQ Press 2017)
  • “‘Mind the Gap’: The Promise and Limits of Home Rule in New York,” in New York’s Broken Constitution: The Governance Crisis and the Path to Renewed Greatness (Peter J. Galie, Christopher Bopst, and Gerald Benjamin, eds., SUNY Press 2016)
  • “Constitutional Revision in New York: The Democracy Agenda,” in Making a Modern Constitution: The Prospects for Constitutional Reform in New York (Rose Mary Bailly & Scott N. Fein, eds., NYS Bar Association 2016)
  • “The United States,” in Checkbook Elections? Political Finance in Comparative Perspective (Pippa Norris & Andrea Abel van Es, eds., Oxford Univ. Press 2016)
  • “‘More Speech’ as a First Amendment Violation: Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett and the Challenge to Public Funding” in Election Law Stories (Joshua A. Douglas & Eugene D. Mazo, eds., Foundation Press 2016)
  • State and Local Government Law, 8th Edition, with Laurie Reynolds (West 2016) 
  • “The Supreme Court, Judicial Elections and Dark Money,” 67 DePaul L. Rev. 281 (2018) 
  • “Of Constituents and Contributors,” 2015 University Chicago Legal Forum 29
  • “The Uncertain Future of the Corporate Contribution Ban,” 49 Valparaiso Law Review 397, 2015
  • “The Anxiety of Influence: The Evolving Regulation of Lobbying,” 13 Elec. L. J. 160, 2014
  • “Coordination Reconsidered,” 113 Columbia Law Review Sidebar 88, 2013
  • “The Future of Public Funding,” 49 Willamette Law Review 521, 2013
  • “Nonprofits and Disclosure in the Wake of Citizens United,” 10 Elec. L.J. 337, 2011
  • “Super PACs,” 96 Minnesota Law Review 1644, 2012
  • “Updating Disclosure for the New Era of Independent Spending,” 27 J. L. & Pol. 683, 2012

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