First Amendment (Un)Exceptionalism: A Comparative Taxonomy of Campaign Finance Reform Proposals in the US and UK
71 Pages Posted: 28 Oct 2019 Last revised: 5 Nov 2019
Date Written: October 25, 2019
There is an urgent conversation happening among the world’s democracies about how to respond to the combined threat of online electioneering and foreign interference in domestic elections. Despite the shadow such activities cast over the 2016 presidential election in the United States, the US has been largely absent from comparative discussions about how to tackle the problem. This is not just because of a recalcitrant president. The assumption that America’s “First Amendment Exceptionalism” – the idea that American freedom of expression law is simply too much of an outlier to warrant useful comparative consideration – is strong on both sides of the Atlantic. This is especially true in regard to the regulation of political campaigns.
This article challenges that assumption, and argues that America’s more libertarian approach to the legal regulation of political speech does not pose a barrier to fruitful comparative work in this area. It does so by comparing the law of the US to that of the UK. Specifically, it organizes reform proposals being considered in the US and UK into a common taxonomy, and sets out the legal standard governing each type of proposal in each country. Considering each country’s law through this organizational structure allows us to see that the legal differences between the US and UK, while significant, rarely bar the types of changes being considered in either nation. Indeed, the two countries have much to learn from each other’s efforts in this area, and lawmakers, regulators, and scholars should not hesitate to engage with the experiences of their transatlantic peers.
In reaching this conclusion, the paper makes three distinct contributions. First, by clustering reform proposals into a taxonomy, it provides a structure for comparative work that will be useful not just in the US and UK, but in all countries working to bring their election laws fully into the internet era. Second, by providing an in-depth yet accessible guide to the legal structures undergirding election law in the US and UK, it provides a useful tool for scholars attempting to understand these systems. The US system in particular is often quickly dismissed by other nations, but without a deeper understanding of how and why US law has ended up as it has those nations risk inadvertently following in its footsteps. Finally, it identifies several concrete areas where the US and UK can benefit from each other’s expertise, thereby providing a roadmap for regulators, lawmakers, and reform advocates in both countries.
Keywords: elections, voting, interference, reform, First Amendment, constitutional law, disinformation. fake news, United States, United Kingdom, Federal Election Campaign Act, campaign finance, Political Parties, Elections, and Referendums Act, The Representation of the Peoples Act, Communications Act
JEL Classification: K19, K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation