The Benefits of Campaign Spending

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Critics of American politics often say thatspending on electoral campaigns harms ourdemocracy. They charge that the money goes forcynical, negative, and misleading advertisementsthat alienate the public from politics andelections.

Political scientists have collected and analyzeddata on the connection between campaignspending and civic life. The data bear on severalquestions at issue in campaign finance debates:Does campaign spending reduce public trust?Does it reduce levels of citizen involvement in orattention to campaigns? Does it lower citizens'knowledge of information relevant to theirvotes? Who benefits from campaign spending?

Studies indicate that campaign spendingdoes not diminish trust, efficacy, and involvement,contrary to what critics charge. Moreover,spending increases public knowledge of the candidates,across essentially all groups in the population.Less spending on campaigns is not likelyto increase public trust, involvement, or attention.Implicit or explicit spending limits reducepublic knowledge during campaigns. Gettingmore money into campaigns should, on thewhole, be beneficial to American democracy.

John J. Coleman

John J. Coleman, professor in and associate chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, is the author of Party Decline in America: Policy, Politics, and the Fiscal State.