Small-Donor-Based Campaign-Finance Reform and Political Polarization

November 18, 2019   •  By IFS Staff   •    •  
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Abstract: The communications revolution has led to a sudden, dramatic explosion in small-donor contributions to national election campaigns. In response, many political reformers, including most Democrats in Congress, have abandoned traditional public financing of elections and now advocate small-donor-based matching programs, such as those in which $6 of public funds would be provided to candidates for every $1 they raise from small donors. But the evidence suggests that online fundraising is subject to many of the same pathologies as the internet in general; the candidates who are most successful at small-donor fundraising are those who are able to generate national media coverage, often because they are more ideologically extreme or more able to create viral moments. Before adding further fuel to the fires of our hyperpolarized era, we need more discussion about the costs, as well as the benefits, of basing public financing on small-donor matching programs rather than more traditional forms of public financing.

Read the full paper here.

IFS Staff

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