Home > Campaign Finance Reform, Campaign for Stronger Democracy > Increasing participation through money in politics

Increasing participation through money in politics

April 16, 2012

Spencer Overton, law professor at George Washington University Law School and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy at the US Department of Justice has written an article for the Georgetown Law Review called “The Participation Interest,” which takes a closer look at money in politics and participation.

The Supreme Court has recently struck down provisions that have capped donations to “independent” groups, or allowed for additional funds to opponents of well-funded candidates. Overton notes that over 80% of political spending comes from those in the top 11% of income earners in the country. What happens if systems can be put in place to expand participation and get more people to contribute to political campaigns?

Overton discusses the background on the Supreme Court overturning campaign finance law (including in Citizens United) and in the process narrowed the definition of “corruption,” which campaign finance laws have historically sought to prevent. Overton then talks about the importance of participation, and how the realm of “participation” can and should extend beyond voting:

The state has an interest in promoting political participation among citizens that differs from the state’s interest in preventing corruption. Participation exposes the electorate to a variety of ideas and viewpoints, furthers self-government, and enhances the legitimacy of government decisions. Unlike anticorruption efforts, focusing on participation acknowledges that money can be a tool for meaningful engagement, that money can serve as a gateway to other forms of participation, and that only a narrow slice of the population finances politics.

In the article, Overton also collects some of the (Constitutional) proposals for federal, state, and local levels that can help increase participation, which include but are not limited to tax credits, small donor matching funds, and relaxed restrictions on PACs and parties that solicit money from small donors.

By expanding participation beyond voting, and encouraging more people to buy-in (with their wallets), via political donations, Overton argues, we can have more accountable legislators since their votes will not be tied to large donors, and a more engaged population more willing to be involved with and reactive towards their representatives’ decision-making.

What do you think? Read the full article at the Georgetown Law Review.


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