The Concept of Corruption in Campaign Finance Law

By Burke, Thomas F. | Constitutional Commentary, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

The Concept of Corruption in Campaign Finance Law


Burke, Thomas F., Constitutional Commentary


In Buckley vs. Valeo,(1) the Supreme Court put the concept of corruption at the center of campaign finance law. The Court held that only society,s interest in preventing "corruption and the appearance of corruption" outweighed the limits on free expression created by restrictions on campaign contributions and expenditures. Other goals, such as equalizing the influence of citizens over elections, limiting the influence of money in electoral politics, or creating more competitive elections, were rejected as insufficiently compelling to justify regulating political speech.(2) The Court's focus on corruption has been reiterated in a series of cases following Buckley, which have decided whether various provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act, or local laws, violate the First Amendment.(3) Barring a major shift in this area of law, corruption is the criterion by which the constitutionality of further reforms in campaign finance regulation will be measured.

The Court's emphasis on "corruption and the appearance of corruption" has stimulated criticism on several fronts. From the left, the Court is criticized for not giving credence to other interests served by campaign finance regulation.(4) From the right comes the criticism that the Court has been inconsistent in its application of the corruption standard.(5) Others find the problem in the term "corruption" itself. Frank Sorauf argues that while the phrase "has a ring that most Americans will like ... its apparent clarity is deceptive, and its origin is at best clouded."(6) Yet whatever its flaws, politicians, activists, judges and even picky academics continually employ the concept of corruption in their claims about the campaign finance system. I hope in this article to give some sense of both the possibilities and the limits of understanding campaign finance as an issue of corruption.

The first part of the article briefly considers the concept of corruption and the ways in which academic commentators have explored it. The second part analyzes how "corruption" has been employed in a series of Supreme Court cases beginning with Buckley. Finally, the third part defends what I call the "monetary influence" standard of corruption as the most appropriate one to use in controversies over campaign finance. This defense turns out to be a rather complex enterprise; it requires a turn back to the foundations of representative democracy. Any adequate standard of corruption, I argue, must be grounded in a convincing theory of representation.

I. THE CONCEPT OF CORRUPTION

Even the dictionary definitions of corruption suggest that it is a tricky term. The Oxford English Dictionary gives nine basic definitions of corruption, but there is an element common to all: a notion that something pure, or natural, or ordered has decayed or become degraded. Corruption was used in medieval times to denote physical processes such as infection or decomposition.(7) When corruption is proclaimed in political life it presumes some ideal state. Corruption is thus a loaded term: you cannot can something corrupt without an implicit reference to some ideal. In order to employ the concept of corruption in the context of a political controversy, such as that over campaign finance, one must have some underlying notion of the pure, original or natural state of the body politic.

Not surprisingly, then, academics have had difficulty arriving at satisfactory criteria for deciding what is corrupt. James Scott divides attempts into three approaches: legal norms, public opinion, and the public interest.(8) A legal norms approach focuses on the laws and formal rules of a given society in determining what is corrupt and what is not.(9) While such an approach may be useful in comparative research, it seems unlikely that it can help us in a discussion of a legal controversy.(10) After all, we can't very well refer to the rules of our society when the issue is what those rules should be. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Concept of Corruption in Campaign Finance Law
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.