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Money and Politics

Edited by Paula Baker

Publication Year: 2002

That large ¹nancial contributions distort American politics and American democracy is an idea that stands as a truism in political debate. It has ¹red reform movements; it has inspired round after round of efforts to limit who can give to candidates and parties, how much they can give, and how much campaigns can spend. The laws have generated constitutional arguments about free speech, a still inconclusive literature on whether contributions actually shape policy, and a great deal of work for lawyers and ¹nancial analysts who monitor compliance. In the wake of Enron's collapse and subsequent revelations about that corporation's involvement with policymakers, the public's attention has once again focused on the role that money plays in politics. Little of the scholarly work (and none of the legal work) is historical. Yet history can shed light on the long-running debate about the impact of money on politics and what, if anything, are plausible policy options. This collection of original essays is a step in that direction. The chapters cover episodes from the early nineteenth century through the 1970s. They illustrate how deep concern about money in politics runs--and how the de¹nition of the problem has changed over time. Through the nineteenth century, the "spoils system" in which party loyalists gained reward for their efforts appeared to be the evil that blocked responsive parties and honest public administration. Party war chests that brought howls of complaint (and great exaggeration) seemed quaint by the middle of the twentieth century. In part because reform had weakened the parties and campaigns required consultants' skills in coordination and in part because television advertising was so expensive, the cost of campaigns rose. Candidates griped and policy entrepreneurs worked out possible solutions, which were in place before the Watergate scandal focused public attention on campaign ¹nance. In the history of campaign-¹nance reform, one generation's solutions have tended to become another's problem. Contributors to the volume are Paula Baker, Robert Mutch, Mark Wahlgren Summers, and Julian E. Zelizer.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Series: Issues in Policy History

Front Cover

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Copyright Page

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Editor’s Preface

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pp. vii-viii

Although there is no biblical injunction declaring, “Ye shall have campaign finance reform with you forever,” this issue, much like the poor, appears to be perennial and refuses to go away. As the authors in this money and politics are not new issues that emerged in the late twentieth century, but are problems that date to the early Republic and...

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Introduction: Does Money Buy Policy?

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pp. 1-3

Money in politics is a funny thing. By legend and cliché, money is the “mother’s milk of politics,” that which keeps party machinery working and campaigns running. It is also the focus of generations of suspicion and complaint. From the advent of the “spoils system” in the early nineteenth century to the PACs and “soft money” of...

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Campaigns and Potato Chips; Or Some Causes and Consequences of Political Spending

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pp. 4-29

Before getting too upset about the initially eye-popping sums candidates spend to win elections, law professor (and current member of the Federal Election Commission) Bradley A. Smith advises us to put campaign costs in perspective. Americans, he notes, spent two or three times more on potato chips than on electing candidates in the mid-1990s. For Smith, the potato chip example...

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The First Federal Campaign Finance Bills

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pp. 30-48

Early in 1839, a congressional investigation into campaign fund-raising at the U.S. customhouse in New York first brought to public attention a problem in democracy that we still are trying to solve: Who should pay for our politics? By 1839, the deferential political system of the colonial era, in which...

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“To Make the Wheels Revolve We Must Have Grease”: Barrel Politics in the Gilded Age

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pp. 49-72

It was a typical election year in Philadelphia. The nation’s freedom lay at peril, and everything depended on thousands of day laborers, up for sale at one to five dollars apiece on election day. That, at any rate, was what one observer warned Republicans in 1868. “Whichever party is the most plentifully supplied with the ‘root’ will...

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Seeds of Cynicism: The Struggle over Campaign Finance, 1956–1974

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pp. 73-111

“It is a cesspool, it is a source of infection for the body politic,” Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.) warned his fellow senators in 1973 about the private financing of elections. “[I]f it doesn’t stop, there are going to be good men in this hall right here today who are going down the drain, not that you are...


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p. 112-112

E-ISBN-13: 9780271052786
E-ISBN-10: 0271052783
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271022468
Print-ISBN-10: 0271022469

Page Count: 120
Publication Year: 2002

Series Title: Issues in Policy History