WASHINGTON - June 1 - The National Voting Rights Institute (NVRI) and the State PIRGs Democracy Program released a study today that found there is no support for the notion that campaign contribution limits hurt challengers. In fact, according to the study, contribution limits can work to reduce the financial bias that traditionally works in favor of incumbents.
The U.S. Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of Vermont’s contribution limits in the case Randall v. Sorrell, with a ruling expected in the next few weeks. Opponents of strong campaign finance laws have argued that contribution limits hurt challengers. The new study, based on research conducted by political scientists Kihong Eom and Donald A. Gross, rebuts that claim.
“This study confirms what common sense and previous research strongly suggest – leveling the playing field through reforms such as contribution limits is not bad for challengers,” said report author and State PIRGs Democracy Advocate Adam Lioz. “Despite the claims of those who oppose campaign finance reforms for other reasons, there is simply no evidence to support the notion that contribution limits protect incumbents.”
Significant findings of the study include:
• Contribution limits do not increase the contribution bias in favor of incumbents or increase the differences in fundraising among gubernatorial candidates in general.
• Contribution limits do not increase disparities in campaign spending in favor of incumbents.
• Contribution limits benefit challengers by decreasing the ratio of contributions made to incumbents versus challengers by policy- oriented contributors – those most likely to seek legislative influence. These contributors include corporations, labor unions, and political action committees (PACs) affiliated with either.
• Corporate contribution limits have no statistically significant impact upon the ratio of corporate giving to incumbents versus challengers.
The report, written by Adam Lioz of PIRG and Brenda Wright of NVRI, is based on analysis of contribution data for 57 gubernatorial election cycles from 1990 to 2000 in 41 states that have varying regulations on contributions to political candidates.
“Contribution limits serve the critical goals of fighting corruption and promoting public confidence in the integrity of government,” said Brenda Wright, report author and National Voting Rights Institute Managing Attorney. “Courts should not be distracted by a red-herring argument about incumbency protection that’s unsupported by the evidence.”
On February 28, 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments from NVRI on behalf of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) and the Vermont Attorney General’s office in Randall v. Sorrell, which focuses on a 1997 Vermont campaign finance law. The law enacted caps on overall candidate spending, provided public financing for some statewide elections, and lowered contribution limits to $200 per election cycle for candidates for state representative, $300 for candidates for state senate, and $400 for gubernatorial candidates from the previous limit of $1,000 per election for all of these offices. A decision is expected by the end of June.
Click here to view the full report.
The State Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) are a national network of state-based non-partisan, nonprofit public interest advocacy organizations working to preserve the environment, protect consumers, and promote accountable government.
The National Voting Rights Institute is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization that seeks fairness in the electoral process for all, regardless of income. The Boston-based organization pursues its mission through litigation and public education.