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Essay on Campaign Finance Reform

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Campaign finance reform has a broad history in America. In particular, campaign finance has developed extensively in the past forty years, as the courts have attempted to create federal elections that best sustain the ideals of a representative democracy. In the most recent Supreme Court decision concerning campaign finance, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court essentially decided to treat corporations like individuals by allowing corporations to spend money on federal elections through unlimited independent expenditures. In order to understand how the Supreme Court justified this decision, however, the history of campaign finance in regards to individuals must be examined. At the crux of these campaign finance laws is the balancing of two democratic ideals: the ability of individuals to exercise their right to free speech, and the avoidance of corrupt practices by contributors and candidates. An examination of these ideals, as well as the effectiveness of the current campaign finance system in upholding these ideas, will provide a basic framework for the decision of Citizens United v. FEC.
Though campaign finance laws deal primarily with limitations on money expenditures, campaign finance is dealt with as a first amendment issue. Though it was argued in Buckley v. Valeo (which will be discussed in detail later on) that campaign donations should be considered conduct, comparable to burning a draft card, rather than speech. The Court claimed, however, that spending money makes communication possible. Often, this communication involves speech alone, not conduct. Furthermore, the Court recognized that virtually every means of communicating ideas requires money, pointing to several examples, such as the pr...


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... outweigh this potential (but not proven) appearance of corruption. The real potential for corruption is related to direct contributions. However, the Court has imposed checks on this aspect of elections. It seems that any proposed system, even the current one, could be targeted as allowing for corruption, or for a disproportionate influence, or for a limitation on free speech. The important thing, therefore, is that the courts balance all these potential harms for the sake of protecting the democratic process and the First Amendment. The current system places checks in the areas where corruption is the most likely, and allows for the most expression in the areas where corruption is minimal at best. This gives citizens the great ability to influence elections and critically discuss candidates, while ensuring that politicians are accountable for their actions.


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