The Anti-Corruption Principle in the U.S. Constitution

cornell-logoAre integrity or self-governance part of the constitutional framework of the United States? Do we need to give constitutional-like weight to the distortions to our democracy seen in campaign finance, redistricting, term limits and lobbying?

Zephyr Teachout published an article in the January 2009 edition of the Cornell Law Review: The Anti-Corruption Principle (pdf).

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.

Professor Teachout argues that the Framers of the Constitution were obsessed with corruption and expunging it from the new government. She points out that Frameres thought the Senate was more prone to corruption since it was smaller than the House. That is why bills for raising revenue come from the House and not the Senate. [Article 1, Section 7]

The Framers resigned themselves to the fact that “man in his deepest natures was selfish and corrupt; that blind ambition most often overcomes even the most clear-eyed rationality; and that the lust for power was so overwhelming that no one should ever be entrusted with unqualified authority.” (citing Bernard Bailyn‘s The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution)

Professor Teachout groups political corruptioninto five clusters: criminal bribery, inequality, drowned voices, a dispirited public, and a lack of integrity.