Expression vs. Equality

The Politics of Campaign Finance Reform

J. Tobin Grant and Thomas J. Rudolph

“Expression vs. Equality is an interesting and thorough analysis of a complex phenomenon that advances our understanding of the dynamic nature of this area of public opinion. . . . Both proponents and opponents of [campaign finance] reform should read the concluding chapter as important practical implications of the authors' findings are discussed. . . . Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the research is the manner in which the authors framed the analysis—the dynamic involved when the public is presented with compelling democratic values that compete with one another. This theme ties the book together, adding depth to a fascinating concept.Perspectives on Politics

In Expression vs. Equality, J. Tobin Grant and Thomas J. Rudolph argue that although public opinion plays a vital role in judicial rulings on the legalities of various finance reform options, political scientists have yet to realize fully the complexities and nuances of public attitudes toward campaign financing. The issue of campaign finance reform exposes a real conflict between the core democratic values of equality and expression. Economic inequalities, reformers argue, allow certain groups and individuals to exert undue influence in the political process, thereby threatening the democratic value of political equality. Opponents tend to frame the issue as a question of free speech: restrictions on campaign contributions are viewed as a threat to the democratic value of political expression. In the context of campaign finance, how do committed Americans rank the importance of equality and expression? How do they resolve the conflict between these competing democratic values?

The answers to these questions, say the authors, depend heavily on whose influence and whose rights are perceived to be at stake. Using a series of unique experiments embedded in a national survey of the American electorate, they find that citizens’ commitment to the values of expression and equality in the campaign finance system is strongly influenced by their feelings or affect toward those whose rights and influence are perceived to be at stake. Freedom of speech is more highly valued in contexts where the respondent agrees with the issue in question; equity, on the other hand, is more highly valued when the respondent disagrees with the issue. These findings have implications not only for the continuing public debate over campaign finance reform, but also for our understanding of how citizens make tradeoffs between competing democratic values.

J. Tobin Grant (website) is assistant professor of political science, Southern Illinois University. Thomas J. Rudolph (website) is assistant professor of political science, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.

Aug 2004
Political science
184 pp. 6 x 9 29 illus.

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