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Monday, May 23, 2022

Madison and Campaign Finance Reform

Michael J. Malbin * | 23.5 | Article | Citation: Michael J. Malbin, A Neo-Madisonian Perspective on Campaign Finance Reform, Institutions, Pluralism, and Small Donors, 23 U. Pa. J. Const. L. 907 (2021).

Recent events remind us of the importance and fragility of the institutions that undergird a healthy democracy. This article steps away from the speech-and-corruption debates dominating campaign finance since Buckley v. Valeo to suggest an approach it calls “neo-Madisonian.” It begins with the Federalists’ views about fostering a multi-factional and deliberative Congress but tempers their vision with departures relating to parties and pluralism. The article agrees with scholars who see parties as important but disagrees with shaping campaign finance to enhance national party leaders. The time members spend raising funds instead of legislating, the use of member “dues” to select committees, and repeated “message voting,” are symptoms of a larger party-related disease that feeds polarization and hinders Congress’s ability to perform its needed role.

With respect to pluralism, the article argues that Madison’s large-republic framework has clear advantages but leaves too many outside. Accepting the advantages of size should carry with it a duty to address this shortcoming. Small-donor public financing is often proposed as a remedy. The article refutes claims that link small donors to extremism. Nevertheless, the article does point out important risks. To address the risks, it puts forward empirical analysis to support a new approach adopted in New York State that will target generous public financing to empower within-district small donors.

The article thus casts a metaphorical net in two directions—urging reformers to take institutions seriously, while urging institutionalists to reach out to those left aside. These goals are not contradictory. Public resources can help correct pluralism’s flaws, but the correction should simultaneously serve institutional goals for the common good.