Cornell Law Review Volume 94 Issue 2

The Anti-Corruption Principle

The Constitution carries within it an anti-corruption principle, much like the separation-of-powers principle, or federalism.  It is a freestanding principle embedded in the Constitution’s structure, and should be given independent weight, like these other principles, in deciding difficult questions concerning how we govern ourselves.  Corruption has been part of our constitutional dialogue since the beginning, but in the last 50 years—and particularly since Buckley v. Valeo gave corruption a relatively weak role in the constitutional scheme—the concept of corruption has been unbound from the text and history of the document itself.

The purpose of this Article is to prove this principle.  While this argument is new, and the way of looking at the Constitution is new, the impulse to give weight to something like it appears in both court cases and the academic literature.  Political process “structuralists” like Richard Pildes, Samuel Issacharoff, and Pamela Karlan, who argue for a structure- instead of rights-based approach in democratic governance cases, often argue for giving constitutional-like weight to attempts to fix democratic distortions.  Likewise, in cases involving campaign finance, redistricting, term limits, and lobbying, there are often judicial attempts to give weight to the importance of integrity, or self-governance.  The anti-corruption principle gives these impulses shape and grounding.


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