Fat Cats and Thin Kittens: Are People Who Make Large Campaign Contributions Different?

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Critics of campaign finance in the United Statesoften direct their fire toward contributors who makelarge donations. Critics charge that large contributionsare unfair, unrepresentative, and undemocratic.Accordingly, they push for "reforms" that wouldfavor small contributions over large, and publicmoney over private donations.

Survey data on contributors contradict thatstereotype of contributors of large amounts andtheir effects on American politics. Overall, "fatcats" differ less from contributors of smalleramounts than critics have alleged. The differences that do exist are mostly unsurprising andgenerally small in magnitude. Survey resultsshow that both policy liberalism andDemocratic partisanship are well representedamong contributors of large sums.

The supporters of McCain-Feingold arguethat new restrictions on large contributions willprofoundly alter American politics for the better.Their claims have no basis in fact. New lawsaimed at restricting large donations in favor ofsmaller ones will have little effect on practicalpolitics.

John McAdams and John C. Green

John McAdams is an associate professor of political science at Marquette University. John C. Green is a professor of political science and director of the Ray Bliss Institute of Politics at the University of Akron.