Sunday, 22 June 2008

What does campaign finance do?

Or at least this is the question Tyler Cowen asks at Marginal Revolution. And a question that a good number of politicians here need to ask, and answer. Cowen writes
Overall the academics who work on this issue tend to see the practical ramifications of campaign finance restrictions as very often constituting less than meets the eye. It's also well understood that most campaign finance reform benefits incumbents, who already have name recognition.
Here is (pdf) one survey of the literature by Edward Lopez from the Encyclopedia of Public Choice. The pointer to this is from Lopez who asks us to
Consider two ratios.

1. In 2000 the federal government spent about 1.8 trillion (~18% of GDP), and total campaign expenditures on all federal elective offices was about $1.85 billion (about $1b on congressional races, $0.35b on presidential, and $0.5b in soft money). So federal public sector advertising was 1/1000th of federal public spending. Ratio 1 = 0.001.

2. In 2000 the private sector share of GDP was about $7.5 trillion (after federal, state and local spending net of intergovernmental transfers), and total private sector advertising, according to Advertising Age, was $240 billion (Statistical Abstract Table 1251). So private advertising was 3.2% of private spending. Ratio 2 = .032.

By this comparison, private sector advertising is more than thirty times greater than the amount we spend on federal elections trying to make sure we get the right person for the job. Given how much we expect from our federal government, isn't it surprising that campaign spending isn’t twice, or even ten times, more than it is right now?
In Lopez's view the campaign finance system needs more money flowing through it, not less. Tell that to the government.

Lopez also gives a link to this 2005 survey of literature by Thomas Stratmann that appeared in Public Choice.

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