about theresa amato

About Theresa Amato

Theresa Amato As An Inquisitive ChildTheresa Amato is an award-winning public advocate and author who works to hold government and corporate power accountable.

She is the executive director of Citizen Works which she started with Ralph Nader in 2001 to advance justice by strengthening citizen participation in power. Most recently, she has launched Fair Contracts.org to reform the fine print in standard form contracts that deprives consumers of their rights.

In 1993, Amato founded the nationally-recognized, Illinois-based Citizen Advocacy Center to build democracy and served as its first executive director for eight years. She currently serves as its Board President as it recently celebrated its twentieth year of community lawyering and training public interest advocates.

Amato has litigated and supervised litigation at all levels of state and federal courts; she has testified in front of public bodies, navigated regulatory agencies, conducted corporate transactional work in the areas of banking, trusts, and securities when briefly in private practice, and engaged in philanthropic fundraising and grant making when she served as the executive director of the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation. She currently serves "Of Counsel" to Despres, Schwartz & Geoghegan.

In both 2000 and 2004, Amato was the national presidential campaign manager, in-house counsel (2000) and General Counsel (2004) for Ralph Nader, producing the highest vote count in the United States for a third-party progressive candidate since 1924, and shepherding myriad election reform efforts and litigation to open up the political system to competition. In 2009, The New Press (New York) published her book, Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny, based on these experiences. She also appears prominently in the Sundance-selected and Academy Awards short-listed documentary “An Unreasonable Man.”

As a manager of Amato & Main, LLC, Amato provides consulting advice for independent, third-party and progressive campaigns, nonprofit organizations and foundations. Amato has also served as a former co-president of the League of Women Voters of Oak Park/River Forest, and as a current board member of Citizens in Charge Foundation and the Center for Competitive Democracy.

Amato graduated with honors from Harvard University in 1986 with a degree in Government and Economics, and from New York University School of Law in 1989, where she was a Root-Tilden Scholar, an executive board editor of the Law Review, and the recipient of the Orison S. Marden for first place oralist in moot court competition and of the Vanderbilt Medal for "extraordinary contributions to the school of law."

After a federal judicial clerkship in the Southern District of New York for the Honorable Robert W. Sweet, she was a consultant to the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (Human Rights First) and wrote an influential human rights report on child canecutters in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. She then became the youngest litigator at Public Citizen Litigation Group, where she was the Director of the Freedom of Information Clearinghouse in Washington D.C.

Amato is the recipient of several public interest honors, including being named a Wasserstein Fellow at Harvard Law School for her “dedication to public interest law,” and as a Fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, where she led a seminar entitled “Mobilizing for Justice: How to Take on the System and Make a Difference." Amato has received both the NYU Law and Loyola University of Chicago Law School Public Interest Awards, and in 1997 she was named at age 32 by the American Lawyer as one of the country's "45 young lawyers (under 45) whose vision and commitment are changing lives."

Amato currently serves on the U.S. Board of Advisors to the Institute of Consumer Antitrust Studies Loyola University Chicago School of Law, and on the Council of Regents, Loyola University Chicago. At the law school she is a "Distinguished Scholar in Residence" and teaches a Community Lawyering & Civic Rights Practicum (Fall 2013) and Consumer Law (Spring 2014/Spring 2015) and The Art of the Presentation (Fall 2014); she also teaches annually a Spring course on “Advocating for Social Justice in Illinois” for the Justice Studies Department at Northeastern Illinois University. Her next book (forthcoming 2015, The New Press) is titled "Liberated Lawyering, How Lawyers Can Change the World." In October of 2014 she was elected to the American Law Institute.

The New York TimesPublic Lives section profiled Amato in 2000; Rick Perlstein also wrote about her recent work in The Nation in 2013. She appears in major national and international media outlets including the BBC, NPR, CNN, CSPAN, CBS, MSNBC, FOX, and the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, and Chicago Tribune. Her writing has appeared in the New York University Law Review, The National Civic Review, The Stanford Law & Policy Review, The Yale Journal of International Law, The Washington Post, CNN, The Kansas City Star, The Chicago Tribune, The Hill, Trial Magazine, and The Harvard Law Record, among many other publications.

For five years, Amato has written the Vita Bella Stories monthly column on raising children for the Italian-American magazine, Fra Noi and contributed a piece to Casa Italia's recently published anthology "Italian Women in Chicago, Madonna mia! QUI debbo vivere?" She is a 2001 recipient of the Impresa Award.

Amato lives in Oak Park, IL with her spouse Todd Main and their two daughters - who are strategically plotting to get a dog.

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  • Amato elected to the American Law Institute in 2014.
  • A new book for The New Press in 2015.
  • Amato published in Italian Women in Chicago, Madonna mia! QUI debbo vivere?
  • Amato & Main, LLC host Bob Sullivan, co-author of The Plateau Effect, July 31, 2013.
  • Amato appears on The Stossel Show with John Stossel on Third Parties on Fox Business, Thursday, 9 p.m. ET, September 13, 2012.
  • Amato & Main, LLC host Joseph Costello, author of "Of, By For, The New Politics of Money Debt and Democracy," June 23, 2012.
  • Arab Spring in Oak Park! Amato & Main, LLC host Young Revolutionaries, Legislative Fellows, and Emerging Leaders from Egypt and Morocco visiting on a Heartland International Exchange Program, April 29, 2012.

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  • Italian Women in Chicago, Madonna mia! QUI debbo vivere?
  • Only One Thing Can Save Us by Thomas Geoghegan.
  • The Third Coast by Thomas Dyja.
  • Keynes's Way to Wealth: Timeless Investment Lessons from the Great Economist, by John Wasik.
  • The Plateau Effect, a book by Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson.
  • Electoral Dysfunction, a book by Victoria Bassetti and the award-winning movie by Bennett Singer and others.
  • The Power of Habit, Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, a book by Charles Duhigg.
  • Setting the Table, a book by Danny Meyer.
  • Elegy for Dead Languages, a book by poet, translator and new media artist, Francesco Levato.
  • World Wide Rebel Songs, by Tom Morello, The Night Watchman.