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Financial Inclusion in Politics

Abhay P. Aneja, Jacob M. Grumbach, Abby K. Wood

Our deregulated campaign finance system has a race problem. In this Article, we apply innovations in statistical methods to the universe of campaign contributions for federal elections and analyze the racial distribution of money in American politics between 1980 and 2012. We find that white people are extremely over-represented among donors. This racial gap in campaign contributions is significantly greater than the gap between white and nonwhite voter participation and white and nonwhite officer holders. It is also relatively constant across time and elected offices.

This result is an important missing piece in the conversation about equity in political participation. We argue that the courts and Congress should take steps to address the racial gaps in campaign finance participation. The participation and representation problems that flow from racial inequality in deregulated campaign finance could inform claims under the Voting Rights Act (VRA), and politico-financial inequalities certainly bear on the normative problems that the statute intends to address. But the most politically viable way to address the campaign finance racial gap lies in adoption of public financing for political campaigns, which offer the promise of increasing the racial representation of campaign contributions. When racial representation in contributions is improved, improved equality in the distribution of resources and power in electoral and political systems should follow.