UPDATED: Issue Analysis No. 6: Do Lower Contribution Limits Produce “Good” Government?

Advocates for strict campaign finance laws and low contribution limits often suggest that such limits will do much to improve government. For this reason, proposals and groups urging the adoption of low contri­bution limits are often characterized as pro­ducing “good government.”

One of the more respected evaluations of how well a state government is operated is conducted by the Pew Center on the States. Their analysis focuses on information, people, money, and infrastructure in their re­port of which states are the “best governed.” This ranking attempts to measure the “best governed” states on relatively neutral cri­teria, and offers the best basis for assessing any relationship between campaign contri­bution limits and overall government per­formance.

This analysis com­pares individual contribution limits in the 50 states to their ranking in the 2008 Pew study to determine if lower contribution limits are in fact related to better governance.

Ultimately, this analysis does not provide any reason to be­lieve that low limits on what citizens can give to candidates for public office have any effect on how well a state will be governed. The fact that two of the top three states in the rankings, Utah and Vir­ginia, have no limits at all on how much can be given to candidates from any source lends further strength to the conclusion that low limits on cam­paign contributions are not related to the quality of governance, and that unlimited contributions are no barrier to good government.

Although self-described “reformers” often tout low contribution limits as a basis for good gov­ernance, this study strongly suggests such claims are inaccurate, and suggests that elected officials interested in improving the quality of governance in their state should not look to more stringent campaign finance regulation as a way to achieve this goal.

You can read Issue Analysis 6 here.

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The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.