NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Campaign Spending is Beneficial

October 8, 2003

A belief that campaign spending is bad for the electoral process and detrimental to democracy seems widely held. However, democracy prospers as more money is spent in political campaigns, says John J. Coleman (Cato Institute).

According to several studies he has conducted over the last decade, increases in campaign spending do not reduce public trust in government; instead, the stepped-up outlays increase the public's political knowledge.

According to Coleman:

  • Increased spending led to increased understanding in the electorate.
  • Respondents' trust in the government was unaffected by the amount of campaign money spent in their district.
  • People were equally likely to indicate that they had a say in government affairs regardless of the campaign spending amounts.

He also debunks skeptics' arguments that campaign spending disproportionately enlightens those who are already knowledgeable about or active in politics. His research shows that as more money is spent, the political knowledge gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged closes.

Increased spending by challengers can help them overcome the advantages that incumbents have in elections, including name recognition and experience. With limits imposed on spending, even unpopular incumbents have automatic advantages over challengers. However, if challengers can spend freely, they are more likely to remove a weak incumbent from office, argues Coleman.

Source: John J. Coleman, "The Benefits of Campaign Spending," Briefing Paper No. 84, September 4, 2003, Cato Institute.


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