Does More Money in Politics Mean Less Polarization?

Ray La Raja and Brian Schaffner, writing in the Washington Post, argue that states that allow parties to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money tend to have less polarized legislatures.

“Why would enabling parties to raise and spend more money help to reduce polarization? … We find clear evidence that parties do tend to privilege moderate incumbents over those at the extremes. For example, the figure below uses contribution data and ideology data from Shor and McCarty to show how parties distribute their funds based on candidate ideology, comparing them to other contributors like individuals and issue groups. This pattern is even more pronounced when parties can give unlimited amounts to candidates.”

“Partisan politics is characterized by policy struggles among organized groups. It is precisely this dynamic – the party ‘pragmatists’ pushing toward the median voter versus the ‘purist’ groups in the coalition pushing for policies – that helps drive the direction of partisan politics. We conclude that giving pragmatists in party committees greater financial clout through campaign finance laws would likely dampen—but not solve—the shrillness and power of the purists in the party who give money to candidates or sponsor ‘dark money’ ads.”

“The current approach of trying to keep money out of politics with unrealistically low contribution limits is distorting politics in fundamental ways.”

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