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For more than two decades, law and policy in the area of campaign finance reform have been framed by the conflict between the norms of promoting political equality and protecting political participation. Viewing campaign finance as a basic component of political activity, the Supreme Court has generally given political participation priority over equality and has invalidated reforms that would limit spending in order to promote equality. The Court, however, has sustained some restrictions on campaign finance activities of candidates, political parties, and individuals and groups who work with these political professionals. In effect, concern about the capacity of private donations to corrupt officeholders has mediated some of the tension between speech and equality and has provided a justification for some reforms, such as disclosure rules and contribution limits. As the 1996 election demonstrated, however, these efforts at reform have had relatively little effect in stemming the flow of special interest money into candidate and party coffers.


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Law | Law and Politics