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"One Man, One Dollar"? Campaign contribution limits, equal influence, and political communication

  • Vanberg, Christoph

Arguably the most important campaign finance regulations in U.S. federal elections are limits imposed on individual campaign contributions. One of the principal arguments in support of these contribution limits has been that they equalize the influence of individual donors and thereby cause candidates' aggregate financial resources to more accurately reflect public support. I construct a formal model to evaluate this argument. The analysis shows that a necessary condition for it to apply is that a candidate's reliance on large contributions is negatively related to voter-preferred characteristics which cannot be credibly revealed through campaign advertisements. Using data on elections to the House of Representatives between 1992 and 2000, I find no evidence that such a relationship exists. This result casts doubt on the equalization argument in support of campaign contribution limits.

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File URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6V76-4P8B0ND-4/1/f56342eb3b70244e5cf7256f8f72e973
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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Public Economics.

Volume (Year): 92 (2008)
Issue (Month): 3-4 (April)
Pages: 514-531

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Handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:92:y:2008:i:3-4:p:514-531
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/505578

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  1. Timothy J. Feddersen & Wolfgang Pesendorfer, 1995. "The Swing Voter's Curse," Discussion Papers 1064, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  2. Potters, J.J.M. & Sloof, R. & van Winden, F.A.A.M., 1997. "Campaign expenditures, contributions and direct endorsements. The strategic use of information and money to influence voter behaviour," Other publications TiSEM 347b9f99-149a-4ab3-966f-f, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
  3. Prat, Andrea & Puglisi, Riccardo & Snyder, James M., 2010. "Is Private Campaign Finance a Good Thing? Estimates of the Potential Informational Benefits," Quarterly Journal of Political Science, now publishers, vol. 5(3), pages 291-318, December.
  4. Gene Grossman & Elhanan Helpman, 1994. "Electoral Competition and Special Interest Politics," NBER Working Papers 4877, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Prat, Andrea, 1999. "Campaign Advertising and Voter Welfare," CEPR Discussion Papers 2152, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  6. David Austen-Smith, 1987. "Interest groups, campaign contributions, and probabilistic voting," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 54(2), pages 123-139, January.
  7. Stephen Coate, 2001. "Political Competition with Campaign Contributions and Informative Advertising," NBER Working Papers 8693, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. 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.
  9. Stephen Coate, 2004. "Pareto-Improving Campaign Finance Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(3), pages 628-655, June.
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