Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



campaign spending


The topic for the 2014 Constitutional Law Schmooze is "Voting and Elections."


Due to the combination of a host of factors – among them being the Supreme Court decision in the case of Citizens United v FEC, the not-entirely-unrelated explosion of Super PACs as a political force in electoral politics, and the tremendous increase in the amounts that candidates and parties have been spending in their campaign efforts – the issue of campaign finance has, once again, rise to prominence in scholarly and public debate. Unsurprisingly, given the highly polarized and divisive political environment in which we live, the debate over campaign finance is characterized by a sharp cleavage of opinion regarding the normative desirability of the legal regime that governs campaign spending in the United States currently. Yet, in spite of this renewal of interest, the debate is shaped almost entirely by two conceptions of the normative significance of campaign finance which are themselves quite old, having been developed in the course of prior eruptions of concern over the manner in which American campaigns were funded and run. In the course of the account which follows, I will endeavor to demonstrate that these conceptions of the salience of campaign spending – which I term the “informational” and the “influence-based” conceptions respectively – suffer from serious empirical and conceptual infirmities. To the extent that participants in the debate over the desirability of the current campaign spending regime rely on these conceptions, therefore, the arguments that they put forth rest on an unsound and unstable footing. A more empirically valid and conceptually nuanced discussion of the merits of the contemporary campaign finance regime is possible, however, if one regards campaign finance as being important not by virtue of the role it plays in informing citizens, or enabling them to exercise greater political influence, but rather, for the manner in which it permits those who engage in it to obtain affirmation for their political preferences. It is the primary aim of this account to provide the outlines of exactly such an affirmational argument for the democratic importance of campaign finance.


Constitutional Law | Election Law