Expression vs. Equality: The Politics of Campaign Finance Reform

J. Tobin Grant, Thomas J. Rudolph

Research output: Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook


In Expression vs. Equality, J. Tobin Grant and Thomas J. Rudolph argue that although public opinion plays a vital role in judicial rulings on the legalities of various finance reform options, political scientists have yet to realize fully the complexities and nuances of public attitudes toward campaign financing. The issue of campaign finance reform exposes a real conflict between the core democratic values of equality and expression. Economic inequalities, reformers argue, allow certain groups and individuals to exert undue influence in the political process, thereby threatening the democratic value of political equality. Opponents tend to frame the issue as a question of free speech: restrictions on campaign contributions are viewed as a threat to the democratic value of political expression. In the context of campaign finance, how do committed Americans rank the importance of equality and expression? How do they resolve the conflict between these competing democratic values? The answers to these questions, say the authors, depend heavily on whose influence and whose rights are perceived to be at stake. Using a series of unique experiments embedded in a national survey of the American electorate, they find that citizens’ commitment to the values of expression and equality in the campaign finance system is strongly influenced by their feelings or affect toward those whose rights and influence are perceived to be at stake. Freedom of speech is more highly valued in contexts where the respondent agrees with the issue in question; equity, on the other hand, is more highly valued when the respondent disagrees with the issue. These findings have implications not only for the continuing public debate over campaign finance reform, but also for our understanding of how citizens make tradeoffs between competing democratic values.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOhio State University Press
Number of pages184
ISBN (Electronic)9780814273029
ISBN (Print)9780814251270
StatePublished - Aug 1 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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