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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.

Suggested Citation

  • Vanberg, Christoph, 2008. ""One Man, One Dollar"? Campaign contribution limits, equal influence, and political communication," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(3-4), pages 514-531, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:92:y:2008:i:3-4:p:514-531

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. repec:cup:apsrev:v:100:y:2006:i:01:p:55-68_06 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. 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.
    3. Stephen Coate, 2004. "Pareto-Improving Campaign Finance Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(3), pages 628-655, June.
    4. 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.
    5. David Austen-Smith, 1987. "Interest groups, campaign contributions, and probabilistic voting," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 54(2), pages 123-139, January.
    6. Potters, Jan & Sloof, Randolph & van Winden, Frans, 1997. "Campaign expenditures, contributions and direct endorsements: The strategic use of information and money to influence voter behavior," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 13(1), pages 1-31, February.
    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, September.
    8. Feddersen, Timothy J & Pesendorfer, Wolfgang, 1996. "The Swing Voter's Curse," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(3), pages 408-424, June.
    9. Andrea Prat, 2002. "Campaign Advertising and Voter Welfare," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 69(4), pages 999-1017.
    10. repec:cup:apsrev:v:72:y:1978:i:02:p:469-491_15 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. repec:cup:apsrev:v:88:y:1994:i:01:p:33-47_09 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Gene M. Grossman & Elhanan Helpman, 1996. "Electoral Competition and Special Interest Politics," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 63(2), pages 265-286.
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    Cited by:

    1. Hans Gersbach, 2014. "Campaigns, political mobility, and communication," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 161(1), pages 31-49, October.
    2. Fergusson, Leopoldo, 2014. "Media markets, special interests, and voters," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 109(C), pages 13-26.

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