NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Why Is There So Little Money in Politics?

Stephen Ansolabehere, John M. de Figueiredo, James M. Snyder

NBER Working Paper No. 9409
Issued in January 2003
NBER Program(s):   LE   PE

In this paper, we argue that campaign contributions are not a form of policy-buying, but are rather a form of political participation and consumption. We summarize the data on campaign spending, and show through our descriptive statistics and our econometric analysis that individuals, not special interests, are the main source of campaign contributions. Moreover, we demonstrate that campaign giving is a normal good, dependent upon income, and campaign contributions as a percent of GDP have not risen appreciably in over 100 years: if anything, they have probably fallen. We then show that only one in four studies from the previous literature support the popular notion that contributions buy legislators' votes. Finally, we illustrate that when one controls for unobserved constituent and legislator effects, there is little relationship between money and legislator votes. Thus, the question is not why there is so little money politics, but rather why organized interests give at all. We conclude by offering potential answers to this question.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w9409

Published: Ansolabehere, Stephen, John de Figueiredo, and James M. Snyder. "Why Is There So Little Money in U.S. Politics?" Journal of Economic Perspectives 17, 1 (Winter 2003): 105-130.

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