Campaign finance reformers are worried about the future. They contend that two Supreme Court rulings — the McCutcheon decision in March and the 2010 Citizens United decision — will magnify inequality in U.S. politics.
In both cases, the court majority relaxed constraints on how money can be spent on or donated to political campaigns. By allowing more private money to flow to campaigns, the critics maintain, the court has allowed the rich an unfair advantage in shaping political outcomes and made “one dollar, one vote” (in one formulation) the measure of our corrupted democracy.
This argument misses the mark for at least four reasons.
First, the money spent on federal campaigns is not excessive; quite the contrary. Second, elections — and politics in general — are inherently unequal for many reasons other than money. Third, incumbency is by far the greatest source of this inequality, and the limits on contributions — and thus on most candidates’ spending — that reformers want to retain would only worsen it. Finally, the claim that generous donors and big independent spenders in effect buy federal elections and policies is contradicted by the empirical