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Money and US Politics

Brian Roberts

This course explores the nature and consequences of money in American politics and why, at this point in history, we find ourselves embroiled in the most significant debate over campaign finance reform in over thirty years. The debate goes to the heart of the U.S. Constitution, pitting the First Amendment rights of speech and assembly against the perceived fairness and efficacy of a republican government awash, some claim, in increasingly unaccountable money. Campaign finance issues lie at the crossroads of a bewildering number of analytical perspectives. We (must) examine the work of historians, social scientists, legal scholars, and interested parties on all sides of the debate in an effort not only to assess current policy debates but also to understand how we got here. During the course we confront and seek answers to a host of questions, including, but by no means limited to:

  • How will corporations respond to the Supreme Court's recent decision permitting unlimited political advertising?
  • Why did most 2008 presidential candidates abandon the system of public financing for presidential elections?
  • Why does the public believe that corporations play such a large role in funding federal election campaigns?
  • Why does the Supreme Court allow public perceptions to determine the constitutionality of campaign finance laws? -Why do U.S. Senators refuse to report their campaign finance activity electronically to the Federal Election Commission?
  • How and why is the Internet treated differently than other means of political communication by campaign finance laws?
  • What are the consequences of unlimited individual contributions to state election candidates in Texas?

Texts:

  • Corrado, Anthony, et al. The New Campaign Finance Sourcebook. 2004. Washington D.C.: Brooking Institution;
  • Corrado, Anthony and David Magleby. Financing the 2008 Election. 2010. Washington D.C.: Brooking Institution;
  • McChesney, Fred. Money For Nothing: Politicians, Rent Extraction, and Political Extortion. 1997. Cambridge: Harvard University Press;
  • Urofsky, Melvin. Money & Free Speech: Campaign Finance Reform and the Courts. 2005. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press.
  • La Raja, Raymond. Small Change: Money, Political Parties and Campaign Finance Reform. 2008. University of Michigan Press

Requirements: In addition to a midterm exam and meeting expectations of strong class participation, students engage in two significant projects over the course of the semester, first in the role of campaign finance consultants advising either a candidate or a political action committee, and second as members of a legal team preparing for a (marginally fictitious) Supreme Court case confronting the constitutional challenges posed by campaign finance laws.

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