University of Southern California

The Geography of Campaign Finance Law

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Article by David Fontana
From Volume 90, Number 6 (September, 2017)

Constitutional law is committed to a principle of geographic self-government: congressional districts and states are separately located and entitled to select different officials to send to Congress. James Madison explained in The Federalist Papers that checks and balances would only work if different places and their different politics were empowered to compete with and constrain one another. While constitutional law makes place significant for congressional elections, campaign finance law does not. Those with the resources to contribute often and in large amounts to congressional campaigns primarily reside in a few neighborhoods in a few metropolitan areas. Campaign finance law imposes no limitations and minimal disclosure on contributions from these places to other districts and states—places quite different than the ones where contributors reside. The result is that a few metropolitan areas dominate contributions to congressional campaigns.

Campaign finance law thus allows Congress to be controlled by very few places, dramatically undermining geographic self-government. While scholars have devoted substantial attention to other problematic features of money in politics, the geography of campaign finance law is a different constitutional problem justifying different constitutional solutions. This Article considers two types of legal responses: those that focus special attention on where campaign contributions are beginning and those that focus special attention on where campaign contributions are ending. While both types of solutions have their own respective constitutional benefits and negatives, they both share a common insight. Only by making campaign finance law conscious of place can we begin to address the problems of the geography of campaign finance law.

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