Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Contribution Limits and Disparity in Contributions between Gubernatorial Candidates

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Contribution Limits and Disparity in Contributions between Gubernatorial Candidates

Article excerpt

Campaign contribution limits have been a common feature of campaign finance reform efforts in most states. Despite their apparent popularity, campaign contribution limits have been criticized in academic literature. In particular, it has been suggested that contribution limits are likely to increase the disparity in contributions among candidates in general and the disparity between incumbents and challengers in particular. In this article we subject this important criticism of campaign contribution limits to empirical testing. Analyses of both the number of contributors and the dollar amount of contributions to gubernatorial candidates suggest no support for an increased bias in favor of incumbents resulting from the presence of contribution limits. If anything, contribution limits can work to reduce the bias that traditionally works in favor of incumbents. Also, contribution limits do not seem to increase contribution disparity between candidates in general. Results hold for different subsets of contributors: all contributors, particularistic contributors, and corporate contributors.

One of the major motivations behind the 1974 Federal Election Campaign Act was the desire to reduce the influence of so-called "special interests." The use of campaign contribution limits was seen as an important mechanism to achieve this goal. Similar motivations led the vast majority of the states to also impose contribution limits. In fact, other than reporting and disclosure requirements, campaign contribution limits have been the most common feature of campaign finance reform efforts in the states over the last 30 years.

Despite their apparent popularity, campaign contribution limits do have their critics. Some have been concerned with the enforcement of the law (Sorauf 1992; Malbin and Gais 1998). Others have expressed concern that contribution limits place unnecessary burdens on candidates (Sorauf 1992). And, perhaps most importantly from a theoretical perspective on democratic elections, critics have argued that campaign contribution limits are likely to increase the advantages already held by incumbents (Aranson and Hinich 1979; Hinich 1977; Box-Steffensmeier and Dow 1992; Cox and Magar 1999; and Snyder 1990, 1993).

In this article we subject this important criticism of campaign contribution limits to empirical testing. We examine 57 gubernatorial elections (27 involving incumbents) from 1990 to 2000 in 41 states.2 Analyses of both the number of contributors and the dollar amount of contributions suggest no support for an increased bias in favor of incumbents resulting from the presence of campaign contribution limits. If anything, contribution limits can work to reduce the bias that traditionally works in favor of incumbents. Also, contribution limits do not seem to increase disparities between gubernatorial candidates in general. Finally, the results hold for different subsets of contributors: all contributors, particularistic contributors, and corporate contributors.

THEORY AND LITERATURE

The Watergate scandal of the 1970s forced the issue of campaign finance to the center stage of public discourse. Since Watergate, the passage of hundreds of state and federal laws has served, if nothing else, to keep issues associated with campaign finance at the center of debates on campaign reform. The passage of McCain-Feingold in 2003 represented one more attempt to make fundamental changes in the way federal elections are financed.3

Contribution limits are often seen as a central component of reform efforts. In the realm of public discourse, proponents typically suggest three rationales for contribution limits. They are: (1) reduce corruption, or at least the public perceptions of corruption; (2) make the fundraising process more democratic by forcing candidates to raise money from a broader base of support; and (3) reduce the overall level of candidate spending by making fundraising more burdensome. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.