“How to Change Incentives for both Politicians and Donors”

Ian Vandewalker at Brennan:

In a recent blog post, law professor and election law expert Richard Pildes raised a concern about the For the People Act (H.R. 1/S. 1), the major democracy reform package moving through Congress. He notes that the campaign finance reform provisions would provide matching funds to multiply the value of small donations to candidates at a rate of six-to-one.

This program, which also dramatically lowers contribution limits for candidates who participate, would amplify the voices of regular people and allow more diverse candidates to run competitive campaigns without having to raise large amounts of money from special interests. Recent elections have shown how much it is needed — even as we’ve seen massive increases in the number of small donors in 2018 and 2020, the amount of money coming from big donors was still far greater.

Pildes’s issue, however, is “whether small donors tend to fuel the ideological extremes of the parties.” It’s an understandable question, and the evidence is that it does not.

To the contrary, we have shown that the weight of social science evidence does not support the notion that small donors are uniquely polarizing. For example, one study from 2016 finds that states with higher limits on individual contributions have more ideologically extreme legislators. The obvious takeaway is that large donors are polarizing. The study says nothing about small donors….


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