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The Politics of Campaign Finance Reform

Money has long played an essential but problematic role in American elections. Policymakers have struggled for most of our history trying to reconcile the tension between economic inequality and political equality in a democracy that appropriately values its constitutional guarantee of free speech. Decades of new regulation of money in campaigns beginning in the early 1970s have more recently been followed by a wave of deregulatory actions by courts, administrative agencies and legislatures. By some accounts, we are returning to a "state of nature" in campaign finance, with limits on contributions and expenditures, public subsidies, and disclosure playing an increasing marginal role. What accounts for this reversal of policy and what can we expect to follow?

Thomas Mann is the W. Averell Harriman Chair and Senior Fellow of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. He has taught at Princeton University, Johns Hopkins University, Georgetown University, the University of Virginia, and American University. Mann has published a dozen books on campaign finance, elections, and Congress as well as numerous op-ed pieces and articles in peer-reviewed journals. He is a frequent public lecturer and contributor to newspaper stories and radio programs on politics and governance. Among other professional service, Thomas Mann was an expert witness in the constitutional defense of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.