This article first appeared in the Essays in Public Policy series published by the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, in 1997. In Political Money: The New Prohibition Annelise Anderson addresses whether or not we are spending too much on political campaigns and whether either expenditure limits or contribution limits are desirable or effective in accomplishing the purposes they supposedly serve. Rather than increase limits on spending and contributions, she recommends abolishing them but strengthening campaign finance reporting requirements and the speed with which data are made available to the public.
Efforts to limit political contributions and spending are extremely popular, yet there is no serious evidence that campaign finance regulation has achieved or will achieve its goals of reducing the influence of money, opening up the political system, and lowering the cost of campaigns. Indeed, since the 1974 amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act, spending has risen sharply, the number of political action committees and the amount of PAC spending are up, and incumbents have increased both their reelection rate and the rate at which they outspend their challengers.
This research first clusters campaign activities in Louisiana state legislative elections into five clusters: direct attempts to persuade voters, obtaining the support of other elites, attempts to increase turnout, seeking endorsements from other political officials, and fund raising. Indices created from these clusters are then compared to the situational factors of incumbency and competition as predictors of election outcomes. Data are surveys of candidates for the Louisiana legislature in which they were asked about the conduct of their campaigns and their relative emphasis on various activities. Incumbency was by far the best predictor of what percentage of the vote a candidate obtained, and in open seat contests, expenditures and competition best predicted outcome. Overall, the campaign activities had very little relationship to outcome when controlling for situational factors. Variations occurred between the House and Senate races with implications for challengers” strategies and campaign financing.