The Perverse Effect of Campaign Contribution Limits: Reducing the Allowable Amounts Increases the Likelihood of Corruption in the Federal Legislature
American Business Law Journal 48(1):77-118 (2011)
34 Pages Posted: 23 Feb 2015
Date Written: October 30, 2011
The regulation of campaign finance brings together a number of vexing issues. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and the cases that have followed have brought a great deal of attention to constitutional issues surrounding campaign finance rules. Virtually no attention, however, has been given to the viability of limits on campaign contributions as a means of controlling corruption. This article does so. The article recognizes the importance of institutions but does not anchor itself in an institutional approach but instead assigns a degree of rationality to legislators in the United States. If legislators are to some degree rational, it is possible to roughly account for the factors that a legislator will consider when deciding whether or not to act corruptly. Understanding how those factors might interact leads to the conclusion that limiting campaign contributions might actually lead to more corruption among legislators. Limiting the amount that may be contributed does not reduce the amount that a legislator needs to be reelected, but it does make it hard to raise money and thus increases the value of contributions. Lobbyists who bundle small contributions to make large ones, thus have even greater leverage over legislators. Understanding why legislators might choose to act corruptly does not excuse the legislators’ conduct; the article ends with a discussion of how this approach to understanding corruption in the United States could contribute to more meaningful reform.
Keywords: corruption, campaign finance, Citizens United, campaign regulation
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation