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Research Report

The Values of Campaign Finance Reform

  • Burt Neuborne
Published: January 1, 1998

Debate over “campaign finance reform” is complicated by a tendency to use this term as a metaphor for an array of underlying values. Without careful identification of these values, discussion of campaign finance reform risks drifting into a series of emotional exchanges among people who are really talking about different things. Moreover, since the values are occasionally in conflict, decisions about whether to seek to reform the campaign finance system, and what the reformed system should look like, require a careful catalogue of the values at stake, and a recognition that different versions of campaign reform advance, and retard, particular values. Finally, attention to underlying values is particularly important in the campaign finance area because of the all-too-human tendency to support or oppose campaign reform on the basis of its projected impact on next year’s election. Only careful attention to values can free us from approaching the area from the narrow prism of short-term political interest.