Race and Money in Politics

Terry Smith, Race and Money in Politics, 79 N.C. L. Rev. 1469 (2001).

Abstract:  An intriguing discourse is developing around the question of whether campaign finance reform can be inclusive of multiracial interests, or whether it will ultimately materialize as a “white” issue, the legislative incarnation of which will resound overwhelmingly to the benefit of non-minorities. In this Article, Professor Terry Smith demonstrates an interrelationship between race and money in politics that lays bare the fallacy that meaningful campaign finance reform can be achieved without considering race. First, racial inequality creates a baseline differential in the meaning of equal citizenship such that claims regarding the equality that might be wrought by campaign finance reform require a significant qualification. Second, race and money enable each other in the political process, with money often being used to purchase a powerful political message that divides citizens along racial rather than class lines, thereby limiting the potential of reform to effect policy changes for the greater public good unless race is confronted head on. Moreover, according to Professor Smith, the notion that reform can bring about greater equality pays insufficient attention to the reality that race itself is a speech resource for voters of color that is very much analogous to money, yet expression through race is overregulated in the political process while money is underregulated. Given the baseline differential in equality between whites and people of color, greater equality through reform is only possible if citizens of color are allowed to employ their full expressive resources in the political process. The current legislative debates regarding McCain-Feingold do not address the unique difficulties faced by minority voters and candidates in the current system, and McCain-Feingold may well increase barriers to their full participation. This Article concludes by offering a set of “first principles” regarding race and campaign finance reform, principles which if effectively implemented through the legislative process or otherwise may resound to the benefit of voters of color.

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