An illuminating perspective on the polarizing effects of campaign finance reform
Efforts to reform the U.S. campaign finance system typically focus on the corrupting influence of large contributions. Yet, as Raymond J. La Raja and Brian F. Schaffner argue, reforms aimed at cutting the flow of money into politics have unintentionally favored candidates with extreme ideological agendas and, consequently, fostered political polarization.
Drawing on data from 50 states and the U.S. Congress over 20 years, La Raja and Schaffner reveal that current rules allow wealthy ideological groups and donors to dominate the financing of political campaigns. In order to attract funding, candidates take uncompromising positions on key issues and, if elected, take their partisan views into the legislature. As a remedy, the authors propose that additional campaign money be channeled through party organizations—rather than directly to candidates—because these organizations tend to be less ideological than the activists who now provide the lion’s share of money to political candidates. Shifting campaign finance to parties would ease polarization by reducing the influence of “purist” donors with their rigid policy stances.
La Raja and Schaffner conclude the book with policy recommendations for campaign finance in the United States. They are among the few non-libertarians who argue that less regulation, particularly for political parties, may in fact improve the democratic process.
Raymond J. La Raja is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, and Associate Director of the UMass Poll. Brian F. Schaffner is Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, Director of the UMass Poll, and a Co-Principal Investigator for the Cooperative Congressional Election Study.
“Ray La Raja and Brian Schaffner have written an important book from a fresh research perspective that needs to be incorporated into all discussions of money in politics.”
—Benjamin L. Ginsberg, Partner, Jones Day; former counsel to RNC, the Mitt Romney campaign, and the Bush-Cheney campaigns
“This counterintuitive and compelling book will change the way you think.”
—Jonathan Rauch, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution
"[La Raja and Schaffner] meticulously analyse party factions, who donates to political campaigns and why, and they also examine data that indicate how fewer restrictions on political parties increase financial support for moderate candidates. Anyone interested in looking at an alternative to the current campaign finance system should read this research."- Melissa M. Smith
--London School of Economics and Political Science Review of Books
"This is a very important book that will be widely discussed...It is highly readable and is backed by innovative data on state-level party polarization, the ideology of donors, and state campaign finance laws...Highly recommended."- R Kolodny
Read: Campaign Finance Reform cited in The Conversation (Link) | 8/25/2018 Read: Ray La Raja and Brian Schaffner cited in Vox (Link) | 9/11/2017 Read: Ray La Raja and Brian Schaffner op-ed piece in the Washington Post (Link) | 10/26/2015 Read: Ray La Raja and Brian Schaffner featured in the National Review (Link) | 10/27/2015 Listen: Ray La Raja and Brian Schaffner interviewed for New Books in Political Science (Link) | 11/29/2015 Read: Ray La Raja and Brian Schaffner featured on Vox (Link) | 1/12/2016 Read: Ray La Raja and Brian Schaffner featured in Pacific Standard (Link) | 1/4/2016 Read: Ray La Raja and Brian Schaffner featured in LSE US Centre (Link) | 2/3/2016 Read: Ray La Raja and Brian Schaffner in Salon (Link and Link) | 2/16/2016