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“One Man, One Dollar”? Examining the equalization argument in support of campaign contribution limits

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Author Info

  • Christoph Vanberg

    (Max Planck Institute of Economics)

Abstract

Arguably the most important campaign finance regulations in U.S. federal elections are limits imposed on the amount that an individual or organization may donate to a federal campaign. Such contribution limits are advocated on two separate grounds. The first is that they prevent corruption, the second is that they democratize the financing of campaigns by equalizing the relative influence of donors. According to the latter argument, an equalization of donor influence is desirable because it causes campaign resources to more accurately reflect public support for candidates and their political ideas. I construct a formal model to illustrate this equalization argument in support of contribution limits. The analysis calls attention to a number of implicit assumptions underlying the corresponding money primary analogy for campaign fund-raising. The central assumption is that a candidate’s reliance on large contributions is an indicator of negative characteristics not revealed through her campaign communication. The model also suggests a method for testing this assumption, as it implies a negative relationship between a candidate’s reliance on large contributions and her electoral success. Using data on elections to the House of Representatives between 1990 and 2002, I find no evidence that such a negative relationship exists. This empirical result casts doubt on the equalization argument in support of campaign contribution limits.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by EconWPA in its series Public Economics with number 0512001.

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Length: 49 pages
Date of creation: 01 Dec 2005
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwppe:0512001

Note: Type of Document - pdf; pages: 49
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Web page: http://128.118.178.162

Related research

Keywords: Elections; Campaign Contributions; Speech; Signaling; Campaign Advertising; Corruption; Inequality; Equality; First Amendment; Buckley;

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  1. John E. Roemer, 2003. "Political Equilibrium With Private or/and Public Campaign Finance: A Comparison Of Institutions," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1409, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  2. Potters, J.J.M. & Sloof, R. & Winden, F.A.A.M. van, 1997. "Campaign Expenditures, Contributions and Direct Endorsements: The Strategic Use of Information and Money to Influence Voter Behavior," Discussion Paper 1997-27, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  3. Dharmapala, Dhammika & Palda, Filip, 2002. " Are Campaign Contributions a Form of Speech? Evidence from Recent US House Elections," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 112(1-2), pages 81-114, July.
  4. Andrea Prat, 2002. "Campaign Advertising and Voter Welfare," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 69(4), pages 999-1017.
  5. Feddersen, Timothy J & Pesendorfer, Wolfgang, 1996. "The Swing Voter's Curse," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(3), pages 408-24, June.
  6. Gene Grossman & Elhanan Helpman, 1994. "Electoral Competition and Special Interest Politics," NBER Working Papers 4877, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Stephen Coate, 2004. "Political Competition with Campaign Contributions and Informative Advertising," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 2(5), pages 772-804, 09.
  8. Stephen Coate, 2004. "Pareto-Improving Campaign Finance Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(3), pages 628-655, June.
  9. Prat, A., 1998. "Campaign Spending with Office-Seeking Politicians, Rational Voters and Multiple Lobbies," Discussion Paper 1998-123, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  10. David Austen-Smith, 1987. "Interest groups, campaign contributions, and probabilistic voting," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 54(2), pages 123-139, January.
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