- Issue 4 - July 2019, Volume 46

Our Campaign Finance Nationalism

Article by: Eugene D. Mazo

46 PEPP. L. REV. 759 (2019)

Campaign finance is the one area of election law that is most difficult to square with federalism. While voting has a strong federalism component—elections are run by the states and our elected officials represent concrete geographical districts—our campaign finance system, which is rooted in the First Amendment, almost entirely sidesteps the boundaries of American federalism. In so doing, our campaign finance system creates a tenuous connection between a lawmaker’s constituents, or the people who elect him, and the contributors who provide the majority of his campaign cash. The recent explosion of outside spending in American elections by wealthy individuals and Super PACs has further eroded the relationship between campaign finance and election law federalism. Indeed, today the restrictions placed on campaign finance are not federal at all, but rather national: only foreign nationals cannot make contributions or expenditures to influence federal, state, or local elections in the United States. However, these restrictions barring foreign nationals from participating in our elections suffer from several doctrinal inconsistencies, and, as the 2016 election showed, they are hard to police in practice. This Article explores the relationship between our election law federalism and our campaign finance nationalism. It explains the difficulties that the states and the federal government have encountered when they have tried to police campaign finance at the border by restricting how outside money is spent to influence our elections.

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