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In the spring of 1974, the 31-year-old junior Senator from Delaware, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., published a law review article in which he decried the traditional system of privately financed election campaigns. Private financing, Senator Biden contended, “affords certain wealthy individuals or special interest groups the potential for exerting a disproportionate influence over both the electoral mechanism and the policy-making processes of the government.” Moreover, Biden urged, private funding poses an obstacle to the candidacies of “individuals of moderate means” and so was at odds with the “concept of American democracy [that] presumes that all citizens, regardless of access to wealth, have equal access to the political process.” In addition, he argued that private funding favored incumbents. To address the “Political Darwinism” of private financing, Biden called on Congress to adopt a system of public funding for all federal candidates.
By virtually every measure, American politics are more polarized today along political party lines than they have been in decades. In Congress, Republicans and Democrats are more sharply differentiated and internally homogeneous than they have been since the late-nineteenth century. This polarization has occurred in both houses of Congress and mirrors similar trends at the state level and among executive officers throughout American politics. The presidential nomination process is no exception. We live in a time of “hyperpolarization.”
Campaign finance may be partly to blame for modern hyperpolarization. Although today’s levels of partisan polarization began building long ago, the deregulation of campaign finance under the Roberts Court has likely accelerated the ongoing process of polarization even further. Deregulation of campaign finance permitted wealthy donors to channel more money into presidential elections and gave them greater influence over the political process.
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