Pay-to-Play Politics
How Money Defines the American Democracy
by Heath Brown
April 2016, 188pp, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-5005-9
$55, £43, 48€, A76
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eBook Available: 978-1-4408-5006-6
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For much of the 20th century, American businesses had almost no presence in Washington, DC; now, they are the most active single interest in most debates.

Pay-to-Play Politics examines money and politics from different angles to understand a central paradox of American democracy: why, when the public and politicians decry money as the worst aspect of American politics, are there so few signs of change?

Everyone from Hillary Clinton to Bernie Sanders to Ted Cruz complains about the corrupting role of money and politics, but money is the lifeblood of their political survival. The public, too, deplores big money politics, despite regularly reelecting the richest candidates for office. The purpose of this book is to reconcile how—against many people’s wishes—the connection between money and politics has come to define American democracy.

Examining the issue from the perspective of the public, the courts, big business, Congress, and the presidency, Heath Brown argues that money can often be harmful to the political process, but not always in ways we expect or in ways we can directly observe. More money does not necessarily guarantee electoral, legislative, or executive victories, but money does greatly change political access, opportunity, and trust. Without a nuanced understanding of the nature of the problem, future reforms will be misguided and fruitless. Pay-to-Play Politics concludes by making concrete recommendations for reform, including feasible ways to reach bipartisan consensus.


  • Presents a holistic academic treatment of the topic of money and politics in America that is also accessible to general readers
  • Includes a broad range of policy recommendations pertaining to lobbying, campaign finance, and wealth
  • Synthesizes the complex research on the relationship between money and politics, offering readers a clear explanation of what to worry about and what is not a cause for concern
  • Offers an expert assessment of all the major political reforms to promote democratic government and reduce the negative consequences of money and politics
Heath Brown, PhD, is assistant professor of public policy at the City University of New York, John Jay College of Criminal Justice and The Graduate Center, New York, NY. He is author of Lobbying the New President: Interests in Transition and Praeger's The Tea Party Divided: The Hidden Diversity of a Maturing Movement. He is also reviews editor for Interest Groups & Advocacy.


"Pay-to-Play Politics is a must-read for everyone who cares about the increasingly harmful and accelerating role of big private money in our political system. With up-to-date examples, Brown weaves a fascinating story of how political money both impacts and is affected by corporations, Congress, the courts, the presidency, and the public. Pay-to-Play Politics also offers a useful overview of policy reforms that might curb the threat to democracy represented by billions of dollars in elite political spending. The book addresses the critical question of whether a democracy can survive in the context of the oversized role that money today plays in politics and that politics play in money."—Joan D. Mandle, Executive Director, Democracy Matters Institute and Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Emerita, Colgate University

"Money in politics is one of the biggest challenges facing American democracy. In this book, Heath Brown shows how we got here and what we need to do to address major controversies. It is a clear-headed and well-reasoned account of how people can reclaim their future. I highly recommend this book for all concerned about democracy."—Darrell M. West, Vice President of Governance Studies, Brookings Institution

"Heath Brown has produced a sophisticated primer on the role of money in politics. He draws on a full range of perspectives to introduce readers to challenging questions and choices on this fraught subject. This book shows a deep concern for political equality yet does not flinch when raising points from scholarly research, which is sometimes at odds with widely held claims about the influence of money. The book offers concepts that illuminate an understanding of campaign finance for non-experts while providing a good overview of the state of the field for experts. You can’t ask for much more on a subject of such complexity and controversy."—Raymond La Raja, Associate Professor, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
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