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Caps on Political Lobbying

  • Che, Yeon-Koo
  • Gale, Ian L

The cost of political campaigns in the U.S. has risen substantially in recent years. For example, real spending on congressional election campaigns doubled between 1976 and 1992 (Steven D. Levitt [1995]). There are many reasons why increased campaign spending might be socially harmful. First, increased spending means increased fund-raising, which may keep politicians from their legislative duties.1 Second, a lobbyist who makes a large campaign contribution may have undue influence on electoral outcomes, on the shaping of legislation, or on the outcome of regulatory proceedings.2 That is, the socially preferred candidate or legislation may not prevail. Likewise, a lobbyist involved in a regulatory matter or a competition for a government contract may benefit unduly from a legislator's intervention.3 Third, a perception that campaign contributions purchase influence may lead to increased tolerance of corruption in the private sector. A desire to control campaign spending has spawned many initiatives to limit both campaign contributions and spending, beginning with the passage of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). Political Action Committees (PACs) can contribute at most $5,000 per election to a candidate, while individuals can contribute at most $1,000. (Restrictions have also been put on in- kind contributions, making it more difficult to circumvent these limits.)4 While direct restrictions on campaign spending have proven difficult to implement, recent initiatives aim to impose voluntary spending limits and stricter limits on contributions.5 Despite the existing legislation and the proposals to limit contributions, little is known about the impact of contribution limits on aggregate expenditures. While it is intuitively appealing that aggregate expenditures would drop, we challenge that intuition here. We study a lobbying game and show that a cap on individual lobbyists' expenditures may have the perverse effect of increasing aggregate expenditures and loweri

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 88 (1998)
Issue (Month): 3 (June)
Pages: 643-51

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:88:y:1998:i:3:p:643-51
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  1. Dan Kovenock & Michael R. Baye & Casper G. de Vries, 1996. "The all-pay auction with complete information (*)," Economic Theory, Springer, vol. 8(2), pages 291-305.
  2. Poole, Keith T & Romer, Thomas & Rosenthal, Howard, 1987. "The Revealed Preferences of Political Action Committees," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(2), pages 298-302, May.
  3. Arye L. Hillman & John G. Riley, 1987. "Politically Contestable Rents and Transfers," UCLA Economics Working Papers 452, UCLA Department of Economics.
  4. Baye, M.R. & Kovenock, D. & De Vries, C.G., 1992. "Rigging the Lobbying Process: An Application of the All- Pay Auction," Papers 9-92-2, Pennsylvania State - Department of Economics.
  5. Helsley, Robert W. & O'Sullivan, Arthur, 1994. "Altruistic voting and campaign contributions," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 55(1), pages 107-119, September.
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