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Pay-to-play politics: Informational lobbying and contribution limits when money buys access

Listed author(s):
  • Cotton, Christopher

We develop a game theoretic model of informational lobbying between two interest groups and a politician, in which the politician can require political contributions in exchange for access. The analysis considers three claims: (1) the rich have better access to politicians than less-wealthy groups, (2) this access advantage makes the rich better off and skews policy in their favor, and (3) contribution limits can reduce the rich group advantage and result in less-skewed policy. We show that the rich do have better access, with the politician always offering access to the rich groups and only sometimes offering access to the less-wealthy group. This does not, however, mean that the rich group is better off or that policy is biased in its favor. The politician sets access fees to extract the greatest amount of rent from the political process. When only the rich group has access, its expected benefit from gaining access is fully offset by its payment to the politician. In this case, the less-wealthy interest group who is not targeted by the politician is better off. Contribution limits decrease the politician's ability to extract rent, which improves the payoffs of rich interests and decreases politician payoffs. Finally, the paper presents a novel benefit of contribution limits: they can encourage the formation of lobby groups or the search for evidence, which results in more evidence disclosure and better policy.

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File URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S004727271100168X
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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Public Economics.

Volume (Year): 96 (2012)
Issue (Month): 3 ()
Pages: 369-386

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Handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:96:y:2012:i:3:p:369-386
DOI: 10.1016/j.jpubeco.2011.11.005
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/505578

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