Campaign finance reformers claim that the flow of contributions and expenditures undermines both political equality and the quality of public discourse. Their opponents criticize the regulation of political money, arguing that spending and giving money are legitimate forms of political speech, deserving constitutional protection. This debate is now deadlocked.
With reform skeptics, this Essay brackets any collectivist concern about the effect of money on politics and refuses to distinguish the salient moments of the election period from day-to-day political participation. And yet, although my conclusions vastly differ from the typical recipes of reformers, they also depart quite significantly from the usual reaffirmation of the status quo advocated by reform skeptics.
This Essay studies the individual right to democratic participation, understood as the right to participate in a political discourse composed of a delicate blend of preferences and reasons. It argues that spending money on political causes can be a valid form of communicating citizens' preferences and their relative intensity, and thus a legitimate component of this language of democratic participation. Unfortunately, this potential is currently unrealized and, furthermore, money currently threatens the integrity of our democratic discourse for two reasons: it reflects preferences in a distorted way due to wealth effects, and its use for politics may not leave enough space for reason-giving.
If the expense of money is to enjoy the constitutional protections of political speech, political money needs to be purified from these two disturbing characteristics. This conversion requires the law of democratic participation to develop a new device: a clearinghouse of money for political causes. This clearinghouse should readjust the size of political donations and expenditures to reflect the intensity of the givers’ and spenders’ preferences. It should also ensure that political money is accompanied by reasoned communication, or that its use is otherwise structured to prevent undue dominance of preferences over reasons. Approximating success in accomplishing these two tasks is a condition for the rehabilitation of money expenditures in politics and its legitimate integration into our democratic discourse.
Date of this Version
Hanoch Dagan, "The Currency of Democratic Participation" (November 2005). Tel Aviv University Law Faculty Papers. Working Paper 27.