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Voting with Dollars

Voting with Dollars: A New Paradigm for Campaign Finance

Bruce Ackerman
Ian Ayres
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Voting with Dollars
    Book Description:

    In this provocative book, two leading law professors challenge the existing campaign reform agenda and present a new initiative that avoids the mistakes of the past.Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres build on the example of the secret ballot and propose a system of "secret donation booths" for campaign contributions. They unveil a plan in which the government provides each voter with a special credit card account containing fifty "Patriot dollars" for presidential elections. To use this money, citizens go to their local ATM machine and anonymously send their Patriot dollars to their favorite candidates or political organizations. Americans are free to make additional contributions, but they must also give these gifts anonymously. Because candidates cannot identify who provided the funds, it will be much harder for big contributors to buy political influence. And the need for politicians to compete for the Patriot dollars will give much more power to the people.Ackerman and Ayres work out the operating details of their plan, anticipate problems, design safeguards, suggest overseers, and show how their proposals satisfy the most stringent constitutional requirements. They conclude with a model statute that could serve as the basis of a serious congressional effort to restore Americans' faith in democratic politics.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12701-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)

    • 1 Reforming Reform
      (pp. 3-11)

      Campaign finance lives in a time warp, untouched by the regulatory revolution of the past generation. Reformers suppose that they can adapt well-established models to fix the problem of big money in politics. But they are wrong. Real progress requires us to rethink the very foundations of the enterprise.

      The old paradigm has three elements. The first confronts big money as if it raised a problem similar to the one posed by polluters dumping garbage into a waterway. The Environmental Protection Agency not only restricts the garbage each polluter can dump but places an overall limit on the amount of...

    • 2 Patriot
      (pp. 12-24)

      Liberal democracy requires an awkward balance between two spheres of life. Within the sphere of democratic politics, we confront each other as moral equals, and we deliberate about our collective future. It is not good enough to say “I want it!” We must make a good-faith effort to justify public decisions as serving the public good. This is what responsible citizenship is all about.

      The organizing principles of a liberal market are different. We come to the table with unequal assets, often vastly unequal. We bargain to further our private interest, without trying to justify our deals in terms of...

    • 3 The Donation Booth
      (pp. 25-44)

      New Haven is the home of Connecticut’s Experimental Agricultural Station—give them two breeds of apple, and they will try to come up with a juicier and more robust hybrid. Only a couple of miles down the road is the Yale Law School, where we are in the same business. We are searching for policy hybrids that combine the best features of previously distinct breeds of social power: the electoral system and the market system.

      In structuring the injection of “clean money” into political campaigns, we sought to marry the egalitarian ideals of the ballot box and the flexible response...

    • 4 Regulations of Last Resort
      (pp. 45-54)

      We have been pursuing a structural approach. Rather than telling people how much they can give, we have been reorganizing the process of giving. This structural emphasis contrasts sharply with the transactional focus of the old paradigm: Under existing federal law, for example, nobody can give any candidate more than $1,000 during a particular campaign.¹

      This focus on specific transactions is the product of generations of reform effort. Although activists certainly recognize the importance of (centralized) subsidies and (full) information in their overall strategy, they reserve their greatest passion for the effort to purge big gifts from politics. Senator John...


    • 5 Mixing Paradigms
      (pp. 57-65)

      In Part I we set the stage by contrasting old and new pathways to reform. Now that we are getting down to practical proposals, we must move beyond this simple dichotomy. Paradigms are tools for problem solving. The new paradigm provides a host of promising options, but it does not guarantee good answers to all questions. Campaign finance is not a single Big Problem but a series of interrelated middle-sized issues—some of which may be solved better with the tools provided by the old paradigm. We are not purists but pragmatists, and see no need for a one-size-fits-all approach....

    • 6 Designing Patriot
      (pp. 66-92)

      Who should get Patriot dollars? How many? Who may compete to obtain them? Under what terms?

      There is no single answer. But the effort to provide solutions concentrates the mind—forcing a complex sorting of relevant principles and practicalities into a concrete judgment. This will sometimes require difficult balancing acts—weighing incommensurable principles against intractable realities to reach operational solutions. And yet serious statesmen must learn to live off-balance—it is never possible to achieve principled reform without awkward accommodation; the challenge is to avoid mindless compromise that loses all sight of animating ideals.

      We would be surprised if any...

    • 7 Designing the Donation Booth
      (pp. 93-110)

      The gap between theory and practice sometimes seems as wide as the Grand Canyon. The analogy to the secret ballot is attractive, but will the secret donation booth really work in practice? Won’t clever politicians and powerful donors figure out some way to crack the system? And when they succeed, won’t our reform become a nightmare?

      Millions of dollars will flow through the secret donation booth, and the public won’t have the foggiest idea who is paying whom for what. But the big givers and their favorites won’t be in the dark. As they wink and nod at one another,...

    • 8 Plugging the Gaps
      (pp. 111-127)

      Exploratory fund + patriotic finance + secret donation booth—this is not a formula for eliminating private money from politics. It is an effort to channel its flow into a larger framework that puts citizen sovereignty at the center of American democracy. As long as the patriotic decisions of ordinary citizens dominate campaign finance, there is nothing to fear from private giving. To the contrary, a mixed system can serve a host of valuable functions—provided that private dollars move in ways that restrict opportunities for undue influence.

      The question is whether big money will mock our efforts to put...

    • 9 Safeguarding the Guardians
      (pp. 128-139)

      A serious reform effort will invariably encounter powerful resistance. However pretty the new paradigm looks on paper, political forces will try to undermine its real-world operation. Unless we block these predictable counterthrusts, we will be writing yet another chapter in the sorry history of reform—good intentions once again defeated by the organized power of political and economic self-interest. Can sound institutional design promise relief from the remorseless cycle of hope and despair?

      The key pressure point will be the new Federal Election Commission. If candidates think that they can cheat on finances, and then use their extra money to...

    • 10 Who’s Afraid of the Supreme Court?
      (pp. 140-159)

      We have been walking a winding path. In the beginning, it was enough to challenge the old paradigm and glimpse the possibility of a new approach. We then set to work designing a realistic scheme that might actually restore real political sovereignty to ordinary Americans. As we blazed the trail from theory to practice, the Supreme Court sometimes crossed our path—forcing us to an accommodation with one or another legal doctrine. But at no point did the Court appear as an insuperable roadblock to reform.

      The Court’s marginal role contrasts sharply to its traditional position under the old paradigm....

    • 11 Patriotic Politics
      (pp. 160-178)

      We have been approaching our subject in a playfully provocative spirit—the spirit of realistic idealism. Realism first: We have staked our claim to real-world attention by brandishing a host of shiny technocratic tools. Fashioned over the past half-century in places like the Kennedy School and the Rand Corporation, they have become a central form of serious policy talk in Congress, the White House, and beyond. Modern policy analysis has many limitations, but it is the best the academy has to offer for the hard headed appreciation of modern government. And it would be folly to throw these tools away...

  6. The Model Statute WITH DANTON BERUBE
    (pp. 181-222)

    In Part I we elaborated the foundations of our new paradigm. In Part II we worked up operational principles. Before presenting the model statute, we provide a road map of its main substantive provisions (with cross-references to the relevant sections) as an orienting guide.

    a. Candidates may raise funds for an exploratory fund from publicly disclosed contributions. § 12

    b. The maximum amounts that exploratory funds may receive are $50,000 for House candidates; $250,000 for Senate candidates (on average); and $1 million for presidential candidates. § 12(c)

    c. The maximum amounts that a (noncandidate) individual may contribute to an exploratory...

  7. APPENDIX A. The Stabilization Algorithm
    (pp. 223-226)
  8. APPENDIX B. The Secrecy Algorithm
    (pp. 227-231)
  9. APPENDIX D. Costs of Administration
    (pp. 241-246)
  10. NOTES
    (pp. 247-292)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 293-303)