Jeremy N. Sheff


The industrialization of the channels and scale of communication has led some well-meaning reformers to try to regulate the ability of powerful private actors to leverage economic inequality into political inequality, particularly in the area of campaign finance. Such reform efforts are ostensibly intended to further the deliberative democratic ideal of rational, informed public decisionmaking by preventing well-funded private interests from improperly influencing democratic debate and, by extension, political outcomes. This Article examines empiricalfindings in political science, psychology, and marketing and argues that, in the context of contemporary American society, the normative principles of deliberative democracy and formal equality operate at cross-purposes. Equalizing measures in campaign finance regulation are extremely likely to increase the divergence between actual political decisionmaking and a deliberative, informed, rational ideal by increasing the incentives for speakers to mislead and manipulate voters or by entrenching preexisting majorities. This Article argues that, rather than focusing on equality offinancing, reformers would do better to think about how to ameliorate the source of non-optimal political decisionmaking: the (economically rational) political ignorance, non-rational decisionmaking, and civic disengagement of the average citizen.

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