Constitutional Imperative and Practical Superiority of Democratically Financed Elections, the Symposium on Campaign Finance Reform
44 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2009
Date Written: May 1994
This Article challenges the conventional assumption that private financing of public election campaigns is consistent with the requirements of American constitutional democracy. We propose a replacement for this system in the federal context: total public financing of congressional campaigns.' We proceed by contrasting the virtues and vices of a system in which funding for political campaigns comes primarily from wealthy private interests with the virtues and vices of a system in which campaign funding comes from all citizens.
In Parts I and II, the basic theoretical premises of the Article are set forth along with six criteria with which to assess the desirability of a given campaign finance regime. The six criteria-three of constitutional dimension and three practical in nature-are as follows: (1) the extent to which all citizens are meaningfully able to run for office; (2) the extent to which all social groups find themselves fairly represented in the ranks of candidates for public office and are able to exercise effective influence on the political process as a whole; (3) the extent to which meaningful democratic debate is facilitated and citizens are empowered to express their points of view; (4) the extent to which the social costs of campaigning are kept down; (5) the extent to which "frivolous" candidacies are discouraged; and (6) the amount of time that elected officials, their staffs, and other candidates end up spending on raising money and reporting campaign contributions. In Part III, we apply these criteria to private and public campaign finance systems in a hypothetical society where wealth is equally distributed. Although both systems would enable all citizens to run for public office, there would be distinct advantages to having a public system even in this egalitarian society. A public system would be better at preserving social equality, safeguarding the character of campaign dialogue, controlling long-term costs to the public, and saving the time of elected officials for public business. In Part IV, the six criteria are employed to analyze private campaign financing in a society of great wealth disparity-our own. This analysis shows that the current regime in the United States, which we have elsewhere termed a "wealth primary," is replete with constitutional and practical deficiencies. Specifically, in the American wealth primary, large costs discourage candidacies by poor and working people and favor candidacies by the wealthy and by incumbents; private money becomes crucial to electoral victory as the champion fundraisers usually go on to win their races; and the massive role of private money ends up reducing competition, participation, and dialogue. A detailed alternative proposal for the public financing of federal election campaigns is set forth in Part V. Finally, in Part VI, this public financing proposal is shown to satisfy the six criteria identified in Part II.
Keywords: election campaigns, "wealth primary"
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