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85 Minn. L. Rev. 1809 (2000-2001)


Any effort to achieve voluntary campaign finance reform raises two questions: Is it really voluntary, and does it really work? In Part I of this Essay, I examine the voluntariness of "voluntary" campaign finance reform. Agreements like that reached by Clinton and Lazio last year—what I term "purely voluntary agreements"—satisfy most legal tests for voluntariness. By contrast, the voluntariness of spending limits and other campaign restrictions that are imposed as a condition for receiving government funding of a political campaign—what I term "governmentally induced agreements"—is more doubtful. The extant jurisprudence recognizes that Buckley prohibits governmental actions that are more coercive than inducing, yet that jurisprudence does not go far enough in identifying coercive governmental spending.

Part II examines the efficacy of voluntary campaign finance reform. Here the tables are turned. Governmentally induced agreements have generally been successful in achieving the results sought by campaign finance reformers. Purely voluntary agreements, by contrast, present serious questions about their efficacy. To date, the voluntary agreements demonstrate a surprising level of success, but the number of such agreements remains very small. The continued success of governmentally induced agreements depends upon adherence to the fine line of providing enough governmental funding to induce candidates to accept the conditions without becoming coercive. The election of the first presidential candidate to reject government funding since it was offered in 1976 demonstrates the fragility of the government funding system. Yet the ability of Clinton and Lazio to defy the pundits and persuade a disparate group of supporters to abide by their preferred restrictions suggests that purely voluntary campaign finance reform holds more promise than commonly expected. In the end, though, achievement of both types of voluntary campaign finance reform depends on whether the People really want it.


Reprinted with permission of the Minnesota Law Review.



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