The Fallacy of Campaign Finance Reform

By John Samples | Go to book overview
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The Corruption of Representation

The Madisonian vision of politics that led to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution creates a presumption of liberty regarding freedom of speech. Progressives have abrogated the U.S. Constitution in several ways, but the presumption of liberty for free speech remains valid. Those who would restrict money in politics (and thus freedom of speech) still must overcome that presumption by showing that such liberties should be restricted in service to other government interests. Chief among these interests has been preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption.

The concept of corruption might be defined broadly as a decline from an ideal state. Corruption thus encompasses all of the justifications for limiting liberty to be discussed in the next few chapters. Here I wish to focus on the common claim that the use of private money in politics prevents government from achieving the democratic ideal of representation.1 I look at the complexity of that ideal and the evidence for its corruption via campaign finance. As deployed in public and academic debates, that ideal is deeply informed by the Progressive vision of politics. Yet even by the standards set by that vision, the corruption case against contributions fails.

Legalized Bribery

People who want to restrict or ban campaign contributions often call such donations “legalized bribery.”2 The appeal of this condemnation cannot be denied. Bribery has few if any defenders. If contributions can be identified with it, Congress might outlaw private money in elections or, indeed, in politics generally. Moreover, bribery and campaign contributions both


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The Fallacy of Campaign Finance Reform


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