An Iridescent Dream
The United States now has an extensive, publicly controlled, and bureaucratic system of election regulation. Until roughly a century ago, however, elections were viewed as private party contests subject to minimal state regulation. We examine how this changed, considering in particular the role played by the courts, given that for much of the nineteenth century they viewed the parties as private, constitutionally protected associations. We consider how and why the libertarian argument concerning free speech came to prominence in the campaign debate, and find that at first neither the reformers nor the courts at any level viewed this as a fundamental obstacle to--or even an issue to be considered in--the regulation of money in politics. This shift from a private to a public electoral system had a significant impact on American democracy that has not often been examined. To understand these changes, we examine the arguments put forth by advocates of cam-paign finance reform from the nineteenth to the latter part of the twentieth centuries. We focus on how the proponents justified these laws and how state and federal courts responded to these arguments, paying particular attention to court rulings on the constitutionality of these unprecedented statutes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and to the evolution of their jurisprudence in this regard during the twentieth century.