Democracy by the Wealthy: Campaign Finance Reform as the Issue of Our Time
Eugene D. Mazo and Timothy K. Kuhner (eds.), Democracy by the People: Reforming Campaign Finance in America (2018).
16 Pages Posted: 17 May 2019 Last revised: 22 May 2019
Date Written: April 18, 2019
The consensus among most Americans that there is too much money in politics should represent a powerful call for action. Yet campaign finance reform is notoriously tricky to pull off. Our campaign finance system is intricate and complex, and any popular reform effort must account for the jurisprudence that nurtures the system in the first place. The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a number of controversial campaign finance decisions in recent years that have buttressed the role of money in American politics, legalizing the abuses that most Americans deplore. As a result of these rulings, the role of big money in politics has grown, the system has become more resistant to change, and popular frustration has risen. In a 2016 poll, nearly 95 percent of Americans stated that legislators are more attentive to wealthy donors than voters. A solid 80 percent added that the problem is “worse now than at any other time in their lives.” Essentially the same portion of respondents from both major parties — 81 percent of Democrats and 79 percent of Republicans — said that they want their representatives to cross party lines in order to reduce the influence of money in politics. This rare example of bipartisan agreement in today’s political climate points to something profound. Though Americans may be divided, they come together on the essential questions concerning their democracy. As Abraham Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address, the United States stands for a system of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. However, when elections come under the dominion of a small class of individuals and interest groups, however, Americans perceive a government of the wealthy, by the wealthy, and for the wealthy. Do we want democracy by the people or democracy by the wealthy? That is the issue bound up in campaign finance reform.
Though public support for campaign finance reform is overwhelmingly bipartisan, surveys suggest that Americans know very little about campaign finance law — and this little about the options for improving it. This introductory chapter to DEMOCRACY BY THE PEOPLE: REFORMING CAMPAIGN FINANCE IN AMERICA aims to familiarize Americans with our campaign finance system. We believe if the influence of money on politics were reduced, the voices and efforts of ordinary citizens would not be as easily countered by special interest groups and expensive ad campaigns. Understood in this context, our book concerns the fate of American democracy in our time, and its goal is to restore to the United States a form of government consistent its democratic ideals. The book’s center of gravity lies in the American people and their long experience with self-government. within our book's pages, we sought to bring together reform proposals from leading election law scholars who understand the intricacies of American campaign finance law and have written extensively about it. In bringing together these contributors, we were inspired by the belief that scholars can play a critical role in changing politics by connecting public demand with powerful ideas. Our hope in offering the many solutions put forth by our contributors is to provide a blueprint for social change in the United States — indeed, many blueprints. We hope that through the ideas found in our volume, Americans will be able to take a step toward restoring the belief among their fellow citizens that having a meaningful democracy is still possible. When it comes to our campaign finance system, it is high time for American citizens to stand up and demand change. Our book provides a number of unique proposals for how such change can be achieved.
Keywords: campaign finance, reform solutions, corruption, First Amendment, Supreme Court, Buckley v. Valeo, Citizen United, private ordering solutions
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