2015 Speakers


Zephyr Teachout

Zephyr Teachout, a constitutional law professor at Fordham Law School and one of the nation’s leading legal experts on corruption, is best known for her efforts to limit the influence of money on politics. Her arguments were cited in the Citizens United case by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

“People want politicians who fight for them, and they don’t want politicians who are fighting for big money,” Teachout said. Despite running in the 2014 gubernatorial race with $200,000 against the incumbent Andrew Cuomo and his $32 million war chest, she won 31 of New York’s 62 counties, performing particularly well Upstate.

In its review of her book, Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United, the New York Review of Books said, “Teachout convincingly argues that corruption, broadly understood as placing private interests over the public good in public office, is at the root of what ails American democracy.”

Teachout was head of online organizing for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign. After the market crash of 2008, Teachout co-founded a group dedicated to breaking the power of Wall Street banks. Zephyr Teachout is a graduate of Yale University and Duke University Law School.


John Rizzo

Over a 34 year career with the CIA, John Rizzo made sweeping legal calls on virtually every major issue facing the spy agency, from rules governing waterboarding, “enhanced interrogation” and drones to answering for the Iran Contra scandal. Rizzo is the author of Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA, a narrative of his rise from junior lawyer to chief legal counsel that parallels the transformation of the CIA itself from cloak-and-dagger Cold War bureaucracy to a multi-faceted anti-terrorism enterprise. During this time, the agency became exposed to new laws, rules, and a seemingly never-ending string of public controversies. The book has received critical acclaim for its candid, insider’s look at American intelligence.

According to NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel, “Company Man reads like the CIA’s conscience: what the CIA was thinking as it shifted from collecting information to killing terrorists after 9/11? Why did the CIA violently interrogate suspects and then destroy the evidence? Rizzo knows, and he’s talking.”

Rizzo was hired at the CIA in 1976 and by 1979 he became the staff lawyer for the Directorate of Operations, the CIA’s clandestine branch. He served as the liaison between the CIA and the congressional investigators studying the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s. In November 2001, he was named Acting General Counsel, a position in which he served from late 2001 to late 2002 and from mid-2004 until late 2009. In the interim period he served as Deputy General Counsel.

The Bush administration nominated Rizzo as General Counsel of the CIA in mid-2007, but Democratic Senator Ron Wyden blocked his confirmation by the Senate Intelligence Committee due to his involvement in approving the CIA’s interrogation practices during the war on terror. The Bush administration withdrew his nomination, but kept Rizzo as Acting General Counsel until his retirement in October 2009.

Rizzo received the Thomas C. Clark Award from the Federal Bar Association and the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal, the highest recognition awarded to a career CIA officer.


Adrian Karatnycky

Adrian Karatnycky is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. The crisis in Ukraine began with anti-government demonstrations in November 2013 when pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych’s government abandoned a deal with the European Union in favor of stronger ties with Russia. The street protests led to Yanukovich’s resignation and the formation of a new government, following which Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula, a move largely condemned by the international community. Since then, and despite a recent ceasefire agreement, fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Moscow-supported separatists has continued in the eastern part of the country, with more than 6,000 people dead and more than 1.5 million displaced.

The co-author and editor of more than 20 books on East European and human rights topics, Karatnycky is widely regarded as one of the nation’s top analysts on the situation in Ukraine. His writings regularly appear in Foreign Affairs magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times and other periodicals. He also appears regularly on the PBS Newshour and on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.

For more than a decade he was president of Freedom House, major pro-democracy and economic reform organization, where he headed its widely-known survey of Freedom in the World and developed and supervised the Nations in Transit survey that annually monitors the post-Communist transition. He had earlier served as Assistant to the President of the AFL-CIO, where in the 1980s he was responsible for coordinating assistance to Poland’s Solidarity and other underground opposition movements of Central and Eastern Europe that were ultimately successful their efforts to break free from the Soviet Union.

Karatnycky has also served as co-director of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations Task Force on the US and the United Nations (2003-4), as co-director of the first World Forum on Democracy (2000), and was a member of the United Nations Blue Ribbon Commission on Ukraine (2005).


Gabriel Sayegh

Gabriel Sayegh is director of the New York State office of the Drug Policy Alliance. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is the nation’s leading organization promoting drug policies that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. The organization works to advance the proposition that the war on drugs is doing more harm than good and promotes alternative policies to reduce the harms of both drug use and drug prohibition.

As DPA’s New York director and campaign leader, Sayegh partners with community organizing groups, human service agencies and researchers. Recent campaigns include ending New York’s marijuana arrest crusade, developing municipal-based drug strategies, passing and implementing historic 911 Good Samaritan legislation to prevent accidental overdose fatalities, creating a tightly-regulated medical marijuana program, and reforming New York’s draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws.

%d bloggers like this: