George Will reports on a new study by three MIT economics professors that sounds like it has major implications for the debate (judicial and otherwise) over campaign finance reform. According to Will, the study shows that campaign spending as a fraction of national income did not grow during the last nine decades of the 20th century. During this same period, of course, the growth of the regulatory state made government vastly more important as an allocator of wealth and opportunity. Thus, if political contributions are primarily a means of purchasing influence (i.e., rent-seeking) then such contributions should have risen faster than personal income did. The fact that campaign spending remained a function of personal income levels, not total government spending, suggests that the primary reason why people spend money on political elections is the satisfaction of participation, not an attempt to purchase influence. Accordingly, the three professor suggest that “the private benefits bought through the campaign finance system are not an increasing problem for our economy.” Will notes that the results of this analysis are consistent with studies of legislative decision-making which show that legislators’ voting is almost entirely a function of the legislators’ beliefs and the preferences of voters and their party, with interest group contributions having no detectable effect.
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