Report: Reclaiming Our Democracy

Campaign Contribution Limits: No Harm To Challengers

Released by: U.S. PIRG

Robust electoral competition is one indicator of a healthy democracy. Academics and practitioners have long debated the impact of campaign contribution limits on election outcomes. In the context of high incumbency rates at the federal level and in most states, advocates and policymakers want to know if limits help or hurt challengers. A new study by political scientists Kihong Eom and Donald A. Gross analyzes contribution data for 57 gubernatorial election cycles from 1990 to 2000 in 41 states that have varying regulations on contributions to political candidates. The central finding is that there is no support for the notion that campaign contribution limits hurt challengers. If anything, contribution limits can work to reduce the financial bias that traditionally works in favor of incumbents.

Significant findings include:

• Contribution limits do not increase the contribution bias in favor of incumbents or increase the differences in fundraising among gubernatorial candidates in general.

• Contribution limits do not increase disparities in campaign spending in favor of incumbents.

• Contribution limits benefit challengers by decreasing the ratio of contributions made to incumbents versus challengers by policy- oriented contributors – those most likely to seek legislative influence. These contributors include corporations, labor unions, and political action committees (PACs) affiliated with either.

• Corporate contribution limits have no statistically significant impact upon the ratio of corporate giving to incumbents versus challengers.

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