By Bob Bauer
Of the several constitutional amendments favored by Justice Stevens, the one dealing with campaign finance reform strikes Cass Sunstein as “the strongest.” Cass Sunstein, The Refounding Father, N.Y. Review of Books Vol. LXI, No. 10 (June 5, 2014) at 10. He argues that without controls on political spending, income inequality will beget political inequality. Especially because we are prepared to accept vast inequality in the economic sphere, we cannot tolerate it in our politics. To the extent that we might worry about incumbent entrenchment if politicians are empowered to set the rules of the game, we should take comfort that the workings of the political process—“democratic debate”—will supply the necessary safeguards.
Sunstein’s article appears around the same time that Seth Masket reports on evidence at odds with the belief that wealthy spenders reliably buy political outcomes. This is the latest social science tending to show that the linkage of wealth to political influence is a complicated question that does not find its answer in routine reform argument.