Teachout’s “Corruption in America”

[This is the latest in a series of short reflections on new books in campaign finance which I am working my way through as I write my own manuscript on the subject.]

Zephyr Teachout’s Corruption in America is a lively and valuable look at the common and judicial understandings of the concept of “corruption” in the United States during the time of the founding and at other key points in U.S. history. The historical analysis builds up to a contrast with the Supreme Court’s current narrow definition of corruption in the Citizens United line of cases and to an argument for courts, scholars, and society to adopt a broader anticorruption principle in both constitutional adjudication and argumentation and in legislative drafting (on the latter point, Teachout favors broad prophylactic rules, in a Madisonian way, to remove the temptation of those in power to act corruptly).

I will have more to say about Teachout and the focus on corruption in my own campaign finance book in progress. I would just say now that as a matter of constitutional interpretation I find her corruption concept rather fuzzy (I continue to believe that much of what she (and Lessig) would call corruption is more properly considered an issue of inequality), and her discussion of the First Amendment interests on the other side of the equation in the constitutional balancing relatively light.  But this is a book well worth reading for anyone trying to get a broader historical perspective on current battles in the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of campaign finance rules.


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