Creating Political Equality: American Elections as a Public Good


Mandle, Jay R.


W. Bradford Wiley Professor of Economics, Colgate University. Author of DEMOCRACY, AMERICA and the AGE OF GLOBALIZATION(Cambridge University Press, 2008), GLOBALIZATION and the POOR(Cambridge University Press, 2003)

This study uniquely and systematically makes the argument that the electoral process in America should be considered as a public good. This argument is placed in the context of an examination of campaign funding and historical attempts at reform. It furthermore is more analytic than anything in the field in tracing the connections between our system of private funding of electoral campaigns and specific difficulties that the country has encountered with regard to the environment, health care, and the financial crisis. It is unique in drawing the conclusion that greater political equality can best be achieved by providing candidates with the option of paying for their campaigns with public funds. Finally, no major study has considered why campaign finance reform has not been a rallying cry for a mass movement or concerns itself, as this book does, with the conditions that might foster such a movement.

The research presented in this work argues that if America is to achieve greater political equality our electoral system needs to be treated as a public good. Professor Mandle states that elections share the attributes of government-supplied services such as the defense budget. But in the United States electoral efforts are financed with private donations and this leads to distortions in public policy. To avoid such serious policy biases, candidates should have the option of running for office with the campaign expenditures paid for by public funds, as now exists in a number of states; that is, financed in the way public goods are paid for. After making this theoretical case, the book proceeds to consider the changing pattern by which campaigns have been financed historically in this country. It examines in detail the sources of electoral finance today and considers the relative merits of two alternatives to the present method of political funding: dependence on small donors or a “clean money” system of public financing. It then takes up three case studies, demonstrating how the private funding of political campaigns both is a source of problems in the United States and renders the political system ineffective in addressing issues as they arise. The vested interests that fund political campaigns have limited our ability to deal satisfactorily with global climate change and health care reform, and were important in creating the conditions leading to the financial crisis of 2007-09. The book concludes with a discussion of why in the past advocates of democratic reform have not made campaign finance a priority and explores the circumstances in which a mass movement in support of public funding of electoral campaigns might emerge in the future.

American Elections/Voting, Economics of Political Campaigns, Funding of American Elections, Economics of Political Reform, National Electoral Reform, Popular Movements, Social Change in America
Release Date: 
Cloth: 978-1-933146-90-4/ 1933146-90-7
Trim Size: 

1727 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Suite 507
Washington, DC 20036