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

See all articles by Philip M. Nichols

Philip M. Nichols

University of Pennsylvania -- Department of Legal Studies and Business Ethics

Date Written: October 30, 2011

Abstract

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

Nichols, Philip M., The Perverse Effect of Campaign Contribution Limits: Reducing the Allowable Amounts Increases the Likelihood of Corruption in the Federal Legislature (October 30, 2011). American Business Law Journal 48(1):77-118 (2011), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2568220

Philip M. Nichols (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania -- Department of Legal Studies and Business Ethics ( email )

3730 Walnut Street
Suite 600
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Downloads
55
Abstract Views
428
rank
411,888
PlumX Metrics