Buying the Vote: A History of Campaign Finance Reform

Robert E. Mutch (Author)


Are corporations citizens? Is political inequality a necessary aspect of a democracy or something that must be stamped out? These are the questions that have been at the heart of the debate surrounding campaign finance reform for nearly half a century. But as Robert E. Mutch demonstrates in this fascinating book, these were not always controversial matters.

The tenets that corporations do not count as citizens, and that self-government functions best by reducing political inequality, were commonly heldup until the early years of the twentieth century, when Congress recognized the strength of these principles by prohibiting corporations from making campaign contributions, passing a disclosure law, and setting limits on campaign expenditures. But conservative opposition began to appear in the 1970s. Well represented on the Supreme Court, opponents of campaign finance reform won decisions granting First Amendment rights to corporations, and declaring the goal of reducing political inequality to be unconstitutional.

Buying the Vote analyzes the rise and decline of campaign finance reform by tracking the evolution of both the ways in which presidential campaigns have been funded since the late nineteenth century. Through close examinations of major Supreme Court decisions, Mutch shows how the Court has fashioned a new and profoundly inegalitarian definition of American democracy. Drawing on rarely studied archival materials on presidential campaign finance funds, Buying the Vote is an illuminating look at politics, money, and power in America.

Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Publish Date
August 01, 2014
6.2 X 1.5 X 9.3 inches | 1.55 pounds

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About the Author

Robert E. Mutch is an independent scholar who specializes in the history of campaign finance.


"Campaign finance expert Mutch surveys an incendiary and timeless subject with considerable finesse." --Publishers Weekly

"[Mutch] contributes a broad perspective to the heated controversy provoked by the current Supreme Court and its decision that corporations can use their financial power to influence electoral outcomes-putting corporations on par with individual people... An excellent discussion of election finance reform." --Kirkus Reviews

"Mutch's book supplies the crucial context that is missing in today's campaign finance debate." --American Constitution Society for Law and Policy Blog

"Buying the Vote examines the evolution of the financing of presidential elections, the adoption and impact of federal campaign-finance laws, and the Supreme Court's campaign-finance cases... Mutch is surely correct that the Court's decisions, rooted in a controversial legal theory, 'have had a substantial effect on political reality' and have sharply narrowed the range of possible reforms." -Journal of Interdisciplinary History