“One Man, One Dollar”? Examining the equalization argument in support of campaign contribution limits
Arguably the most important campaign finance regulations in U.S. federal elections are limits imposed on the amount that an individual or organization may donate to a federal campaign. Such contribution limits are advocated on two separate grounds. The first is that they prevent corruption, the second is that they democratize the financing of campaigns by equalizing the relative influence of donors. According to the latter argument, an equalization of donor influence is desirable because it causes campaign resources to more accurately reflect public support for candidates and their political ideas. I construct a formal model to illustrate this equalization argument in support of contribution limits. The analysis calls attention to a number of implicit assumptions underlying the corresponding money primary analogy for campaign fund-raising. The central assumption is that a candidate’s reliance on large contributions is an indicator of negative characteristics not revealed through her campaign communication. The model also suggests a method for testing this assumption, as it implies a negative relationship between a candidate’s reliance on large contributions and her electoral success. Using data on elections to the House of Representatives between 1990 and 2002, I find no evidence that such a negative relationship exists. This empirical result casts doubt on the equalization argument in support of campaign contribution limits.
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