Campaign Finance Reform

free essayDiscussions on liberty and equality have been discussed numerous times in regards to campaign finance reforms. Confusion in this discussion is inevitable since most points between liberty and equality are often unclear. Another reason for the lack of clarity in the discussion is the issue of defining principles instead of finding the underlying basis for these principles. Politically, liberty can be defined as the interference of some people with other people’s intentions and plans. In this sense, people are at liberty to do anything when others do not interfere with their actions. Equality, on the other hand, refers to creating the same platform for all candidates. The issue of equality and liberty has created an impossible dilemma when it comes to developing a system to impose measures of ethics into the American campaign financial system. This has been observed in the list of unsuccessful campaign reforms in the since the 20th century.

Money and Politics

Money and politics are two issues that have been considered to be in close relationship with one another. Money can be used by the wealthy to influence the outcome of an election through their financial support of a specific candidate. In the wake of a ruling on Citizens United vs. FEC, where the corporation was allowed advocacy of a candidate, there has been a heated discussion on money, power, and politics. Specifically, the impact of money on the outcome of elections has been hotly discussed. According to Leumer (2012), many people have come to the assumption that money and politics have a relationship like a law of nature: the more money an individual has, the more political power the said person can leverage. Such a thought shows how different members of society view money in politics. Thus, an editorial in The New York Times shows that big donors in President Obama’s election are more likely to be allowed into the White House than small ones (“Money rules”, 2012). The editorial added that during the Presidential election battle between Barrack Obama and Mitt Romney, none of these candidates had showed any interest in reforming the campaign financing system that had been mauled with scandals and different forms of money abuses for decades (“Money rules”, 2012). Most politicians denied any connection between the decisions that they made while in office and the donations that they had received during their campaigns (“Money rules”, 2012). However, it is not logical that corporations continue to make huge donations to these individuals each year without getting anything in return for them. However, it is not surprising that there is a convergence between power and money. Capitalism is the system of economic relations in the USA. This system breeds a culture into the members of society that ensure that money is the ‘bottom line’ of each transaction. Therefore, money has therefore become a determining factor in deciding which candidate gets voted in during an election.

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It is clear that money can have a huge impact on an election. According to Hacker and Pierson (2015), much of the wealth enjoyed by the rich has come from lobbying politicians to transform different regulations and tax laws to their favor. As a result, money continues to be concentrated in the hands of the few wealthy people in society, while power also continues to be belong to the few politicians supported by these wealthy people. Consequently, huge inequalities in wealth continue to grow due to money donated to politicians during elections. Therefore, it is accurate to state that donations during elections have been among the key determinants of some of the problems that society faces today.

Liberty and Equality

Liberty and equality are two disproportionate terms. When policies tip on one side, the side topples. When liberty is given the preference, equality decreases. If equality is given the preference, then social and personal liberties are decreased. When it comes to campaign finance reforms, the main issue lies in reconciling the competing ideas of liberty and equality. Enabling liberty through spending during campaigns creates differences among citizens. However, if a system is controlled to create equality, then the right to spend is limited. As a result, developing a greater measure of ethics in campaign financing has proved to be an uphill task due to this inverse relationship of equity and liberty. Therefore, a compromise has to be reached to create an ethical measure of campaign financing.

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To understand the relationship between liberty and equality, the concept of fairness needs to be understood. The Rawlsian approach to justice states that people in society must have similar rights to basic liberties that are had by all, but any economic or social inequalities must also be structured in a way that the greatest benefit belongs to those who are the least advantaged (Thompson, 2005). Applying this approach into the campaign financing issue, one can see that an ethical campaign financial system should provide the candidates during an election with an equal platform for raising money while providing the voters with an equal influence on the outcomes of the elections at the same time. All this brings into account the addition of single voters, the liberty to speak freely, and the ability and will to donate to the candidates. Therefore, Rawls’ Theory of Justice is an important theory when it comes to discussing the relationship of liberty and equity in campaign financing. According to Thompson (2005), the idea of justice by John Rawls is based on a social agreement created by individuals who come together and put aside all characteristics that define them in such a way that they forget their identities. Thus, individuals choose to favor the people who are most disadvantaged within society as seen in their social or economic status. Two principles of justice have been developed from Rawls’ Approach. The first principle states that everyone should have an equal right to the most inclusive complete system of basic and equal liberties harmonious with a comparable system of liberty for everyone. The second principle states that inequalities in society and economy should be structured in such a way that they are of the greatest benefit to the individuals who are the least advantaged. Consequently, various positions and offices must be open for every member of society under the idea of fairness and equal opportunities. The above two principles have been observed to create the dilemma faced during the reforms in campaign financing. In any uncontrolled campaign system, each person is given the liberty to do what they want. Society, on the other hand, provides social and economic disparities leading to the unequal access to resources. Structuring a system that goes hand in hand with the second principle infringes the liberties outlined in the first principle.


Since the 20th century, there has been a move towards the regulation of any activities or financial transactions that are tied to political campaigns. The main reason in the need for such a regulation has been to reduce the influence of various institutions and labor unions of elections in the country. This regulation has also been sought to put limits on the relationship between the campaigns of various individuals and federal employees. Since the 1960s, campaigns began to transform, shifting from political parties to the candidates running for office. Such a shift had also caused a change in how campaigns were founded, thus moving from party-funded campaigns to individual-funded campaigns. As a result, individuals started organizing fundraisings where they received donations from private donors to fund their campaigns (Farrar-Myers & Dwyre, 2008). Therefore, private donors or even other institutions would influence the outcome of an election simply by funding a specific candidate. This trend has continued even to date, which signifies the need to reform financing during campaigns.

One of the rulings that have been observed to defend reforms in campaign financing was made in 1976. In the case of Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court did not validate the limits on individual spending and also developed a thin description of what a campaign communication was made up of. The Supreme Court viewed the First Amendment as securing the largest release of information from the sources of an antagonistic and diverse nature to give way for the required social and political changes in society. This ruling by the Supreme Court put a huge burden on the government when it came to imposing regulations on the financing of political campaigns. The Federal Election Commission had developed regulations that put limits to how contributions were made to political parties. Since then, attempts to regulate the amount of money that a candidate would spend during elections and contributions made to a specific candidate have been unsuccessful. Soft money amount for each political party was raised, and the amount spent by a specific political party also went up. Political parties started advertising their issues in the media during election times. As a result, such loopholes in these election regulations made sure that any efforts made towards reforms in campaign financing remained ineffective.

The 21st century has seen several campaign financing reforms. The first of these reforms was observed in 2002 with the adoption of the act authored by John McCain and Russ Feingold known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA). In this reform, fundraising for soft money in all political parties was banned, while the use of soft money was limited to media broadcasts within 60 days of a general election and 30 days of a primary election (La Raja, 2008). Therefore, this reform promotes fairness since wealthy and non-wealthy donors have a narrowed influence in these political parties. However, this Act has limited the individual spending and contribution to campaigns, and as a result, it infringes on a person’s liberty. Nevertheless, it does take away some power from those in power, thus fulfilling the second Rawl’s principle.

Another reform in the campaigning system can be observed in 2003 in the case between McConnell and the FEC. In this case, the BCRA ban on soft money was challenged because it did not fulfill liberties given in the First Amendment (Whitaker, Lunder, Manuel, Maskell, & Seitzinger 2010). The ruling of the court still viewed that soft money should be restricted, but a total ban on the violation of the First Amendment was to be imposed. Although this case brought campaign financial reforms a step closer towards satisfying both Rawls’ principles, the ethical issues present in the BCRA were still present. The court tried to create equality by stating that a total ban was an infringement of the First Amendment. In 2006, in a case of Randall v. Sorrell, the decision by Vermont to impose strict limits on the spending and donating by candidates, which had been done in 1997, was challenged on the infringement of the First Amendment (Mcdonald & Samples, 2006). This infringement was removed by the Supreme Court by claiming that the strict limits were not proportionate to the purposes of public that were developed for their advancement (Mcdonald & Samples, 2006). This ruling by the Supreme Court was guided by the idea that the placing of limits by the State on their donations and spending during campaigns did not enable the candidates to perform as effectively as they would have in other cases. However, ethically, this case did not fulfill the second Rawls’ principle of equality. By eliminating the bounds on spending and donations, this ruling allowed inequality among candidates since the candidates with huge sums of money might have a serious influence on the outcome of elections. Nevertheless, it did protect Rawls’ first principle of liberty. In 2007, the FEC sued the Wisconsin Right to Life Organization for providing financing to the anti-abortion advertisements broadcasted during the 60-day periodic ban that had been imposed by the FEC (Magleby & Corrado, 2011). The Wisconsin Right to Life Organization is a pro-life group that supports the election of conservative leaders. The argument brought forward in this case was that the advertisements made by this organization were likely to affect the outcome of an election. The ruling of the court was that since the advertisements had not mentioned any political candidate, the group was allowed to place such advertisements. However, an ethical issue in campaign funding arises in this case. Restricting institutions or candidates to place advertisements infringes on liberty shown in the first Rawls’ principle. At the same time, it allowing the spending on issues that affect the campaign just because they do not mention a certain political candidate makes a specific candidate who stands on those issues to be at a better place of being elected into office, and this promotes inequality.

Lastly, in 2010, a conservative lobbying institution known as Citizens United created a movie titled Hillary that discouraged people from voting for Hillary Clinton during the campaign season. The movie was in violation of a part of BCRA, and the lobbying organization challenged the ban by the Act on directly advocating for a specific candidate. In this case, the Supreme Court tipped the campaign finance system towards deregulation of the same by allowing the lobbyists to advocate for their candidate (Youn, 2011). The court made a decision that corporates had liberty, and the government could not limit such liberty based on the corporate identity of a candidate. In this decision, deregulation allowed inequalities during campaigns. Therefore, the decision made by the Supreme Court shows that campaign finance reforms have been swinging between a deregulated and regulated system, from giving liberty to individuals and organization to promoting equality within society. Thus, it seems close to impossible to create the desired balance between the two issues in regards to campaign finance reforms.


In conclusion, money and politics have always been closely linked, and this connection can be considered to contribute to some of the issues that society faces today. Money is used to campaign for specific candidates who, after being elected in office, choose to continue making decisions in favor of the people who keep making donations to their campaigns. Two issues arise in regards to the regulation of money spent to fund campaigns: equality and liberty. In the First Amendment, people are allowed liberty to do what they want. However, such a liberty allows inequalities to continue happening in society. As the result of the inverse relationship between these two issues, ethical issues begin to arise when it comes to campaign finance reforms. In this case, some balance must be struck between liberty and equality. To achieve this balance, each side must be willing to reach a compromise on some of the issues.

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