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Journal of Economic Perspectives—Volume 17, Number 1—Winter 2003—Pages 105–130 Why is There so Little Money in U.S. Politics?

By Stephen Ansolabehere, John M. De Figueiredo and James M. Snyder


Two extreme views bracket the range of thinking about the amount of money in U.S. political campaigns. At one extreme is the theory that contributors wield considerable in � uence over legislators. Even modest contributions may be cause for concern and regulation, given the extremely large costs and bene � ts that are levied and granted by government. An alternative view holds that contributors gain relatively little political leverage from their donations, since the links from an individual campaign contribution to the election prospects of candidates and to the decisions of an individual legislators are not very � rm. 1 Although these theories have different implications, they share a common perspective that campaign contributions should be considered as investments in a political marketplace, where a return on that investment is expected. In this paper, we begin by offering an overview of the sources and amounts of campaign contributions in the U.S. In the light of these facts, we explore the assumption that the amount of money in U.S. campaigns mainly re � ects political investment. We then offer our perspective that campaign contributions should be viewed primarily as a type of consumption good, rather than as a market for buying political bene � ts. Although this perspective helps to explain the levels of campaign contributions by individuals and organizations, it opens up new research questions of its own

Year: 2013
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