It’s the Spending, Stupid: Understanding Campaign Finance in the Big-Government Era

In this briefing paper, Patrick Basham confronts the concern that the United States spends too much money on campaigns and elections. That proposition is difficult to sustain since the nation spends so little of its wealth on campaigns. In addition to accounting for inflation, any increase in election spending should also be seen in the light of five other “mores”: more elections are held, more wealth is available for politics, more voters take part, more advertising must be bought, and more campaign finance regulations must be honored.

However, according to Basham, the most important factor driving campaign finance upward is “more government.” Taxes and regulations on society have increased the ambit of government at all levels. Increasing government activity leads to more efforts to influence political decisions including spending on campaigns, a relationship confirmed by scholarly studies. The author predicts that efforts to restrict or ban campaign spending will be futile. The only sure way to lower campaign spending would be to restrict government to its constitutional powers.