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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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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
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  1. 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 Behavior," Discussion Paper 1997-27, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  2. Prat, Andrea, 2002. "Campaign Advertising and Voter Welfare," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 69(4), pages 999-1017, October.
  3. Riccardo Puglisi & Andrea Prat & James Snyder, 2006. "Is private campaign finance a good thing? estimates of the potential informational benefits," ULB Institutional Repository 2013/10393, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
  4. 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.
  5. repec:oup:restud:v:63:y:1996:i:2:p:265-86 is not listed on IDEAS
  6. 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.
  7. Feddersen, Timothy J & Pesendorfer, Wolfgang, 1996. "The Swing Voter's Curse," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(3), pages 408-24, June.
  8. Stephen Coate, 2001. "Political Competition with Campaign Contributions and Informative Advertising," NBER Working Papers 8693, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Stephen Coate, 2004. "Pareto-Improving Campaign Finance Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(3), pages 628-655, June.
  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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