The Campaign Finance Cases

Buckley, McConnell, Citizens United, and McCutcheon

Melvin I. Urofsky

Rarely does the Supreme Court reverse itself as quickly and profoundly as it did in recent campaign finance cases, with the Citizens United decision of 2010 undoing the constraints of the McCain-Feingold Act upheld in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (2003). And rarely have the stakes seemed so high, as billionaires vie for elected office and dark money floods political campaigns. In timely fashion, this new edition updates Melvin Urofsky’s classic study of campaign finance law, bringing his cogent analysis of the relevant statutes and court cases up to date.

Urofsky explains in clear and convincing language what was—and is—at stake in the twists and turns of campaign finance laws taken up by the nation’s highest court in the past decades. Beginning with Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and moving through McConnell, Citizens United, and finally McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (2014), Urofsky discusses the two principles at issue in these cases: freedom of political speech, and the protection of the political process from undue influence. Conventional wisdom holds that in such cases liberals want greater restrictions and conservatives want corporations to have greater freedom to influence voters. But working from a rich store of primary sources, probing the motivations and ideas of all participants in the campaign finance legal story, Urofsky reveals a far more complex picture, one whose significance transcends simple political ideologies.

“Thoroughly researched, analytically sound, and clearly written, Urofsky’s The Campaign Finance Cases takes a very difficult subject and opens it up to the general reader. It makes clear not only why campaign finance reforms matter, but why they are so hard to get right and why the Supreme Court is constantly having to rule on these matters. I look forward to using this book the next time I teach voting and elections to my students.”

—Charles L. Zelden, author of Bush v. Gore: Exposing the Growing Crisis in American Democracy, Third Expanded Edition

“A masterful history of the Supreme Court’s decades-long struggle to balance the integrity of elections with free speech in campaign finance cases. Urofsky upends numerous myths and misconceptions about the Court while showing how, in the era of Citizens United, campaign finance laws are increasingly likely to be struck down.”

—Adam Winkler, author of We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights

In a time of controversies over political speech in the blogosphere, social media, and cable news, and claims of electoral fraud, The Campaign Finance Cases offers a much-needed, balanced account of how issues critical to American democracy figure in the adjudication of campaign finance law, and how a changing political and media landscape might alter the process.

About the Author

Melvin I. Urofsky is professor of law and public policy and professor emeritus of history at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is the author of The Affirmative Action Puzzle: A Living History from Reconstruction to Today and coauthor of New York Times v. Sullivan: Civil Rights, Libel Law, and the Free Press, among many other volumes.

Additional Titles in the Landmark Law Cases and American Society Series