Wealth and Democracy in the United States

III. August 8–12, 2022
Day & Time:
Monday–Friday, 11:10 a.m.–1:00 p.m. and 3:10–5:00 p.m.
Geoffrey Upton

“I feel like I can better have conversations and debates when it comes to political theory.” – Sophia J. | Cranford, New Jersey

Course Description

This course considers the relationship between wealth and democracy, in theory, in history, and in practice today. Topics investigated include the following: political and legal debates about campaign finance reform from the late 20th century to the present, including whether money is speech and whether campaigns should be publicly financed; the role of the wealthy in American politics as candidates and as donors/funders; and the nature and problem of political corruption.

Readings are drawn from philosophers and political theorists, contemporary studies of the impact of wealth on American democracy, and key Supreme Court decisions including Citizens United. Other sources include film excerpts and press accounts. Students also benefit from several guest speakers working on issues pertaining to campaign finance and related issues of money and politics on the local, state, and/or national level.

Morning sessions are generally devoted to helping students achieve a firm grasp of the theoretical and factual arguments found in the readings, through a combination of presentations by the instructor and class discussion. Afternoon sessions allow students to put these theories and facts to work in written and oral form, working both individually and in small groups.

In addition to completing and discussing reading assignments, students write position papers and participate in debates in which they marshal ideas from the sources studied to justify and defend their positions.

Our ultimate goal is not to establish the proper role of money in politics, but to more deeply understand different ways of thinking about wealth and democracy that have shaped the past and present, and that offer us possibilities for the future.


Geoffrey Upton

Geoffrey Upton received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of California at Berkeley, where he specialized in political theory and public law; he also holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard College and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is currently an assistant professor of political science at Seton Hall University, where he is also the pre-law advisor for the College of Arts and Sciences. Geoffrey has taught political theory, law, and American politics at Berkeley as a lecturer and teaching assistant, and legal studies at Mills College in Oakland as an assistant adjunct professor in political science. He has also been an instructor for the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies program at Stanford University, teaching summer courses to high school and middle school students on democracy, legal studies, philosophy, and expository writing. Before pursuing his Ph.D., Geoffrey was a lawyer in New York for two major international law firms, an attorney and political aide for the New York City Council, and a professional journalist and editor. He also lived and worked in Berlin for one year on a Robert Bosch Foundation fellowship.

Back to the Course Guide

Specific course detail such as hours and instructors are subject to change at the discretion of the University. Not all instructors listed for a course teach all sections of that course.