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My understanding of politics in the US is that a large portion of campaign funds come from different lobbying groups and special interests. Does this create a conflict of interest for politicians beholden to their campaign contributors in addition to their constituents? What are the pros and cons of this system as compared to an alternative system where candidates are limited to using public resources adequate to run their campaign?

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  • How is it not self-evident?
    – J Doe
    Feb 16 '17 at 21:15
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Among other pros of raising private donations:

  • Overall, political advertising costs money (a LOT) since it not only has to compete with other political advertising but with all the NON-political ads out there. This inflates the prices of advertising to the point that no publicaly funded candidate can afford to advertise. Which in turn gives an incumbent a 100% guarantee of re-election, which is obviously bad for democracy. With no incumbent, the edge goes to a celebrity, or someone beloved by the media.

    In other words, "adequate to run their campaign" is not something we have enough public money to spend on, for any definition of "adequate".

  • A candidate that is opposed by the 4th branch of government (media) has ZERO chance of getting their voice out without raising a substantial amount of money. Leaving aside the sure-to-generate-debate issue of whether MSM in America is liberal (but if you care, look who major newspapers editorial opinions endorsed recently), the proof is in the pudding: Media-organized debates have uniformly excluded less "major" candidates of all political persuasions.


As far as the cons, "beholden to their campaign contributors" is a nice phrase to use around the coctail table, but there needs to be some research to show that it is actually true.

FiveThirtyEight ran a post last year that raising spending on ads in a non-edge case (e.g. when both candidates are already somewhat known) by 100% merely adds 1% margin to the vote. And for any campaign other than national Prez election, advertising is the biggest expenditure (for Prez, get out the vote operations and organizing take money too).

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  • you should source the FiveThirtyEight 1% margin with doubling advertising. I know that I linked to a Freakanomics source in one of my other answers.
    – user1873
    Nov 30 '13 at 16:04
  • @user1873 - I read it on RSS feed and it's behind a paywall, so I'm not sure how to find it again.
    – user4012
    Nov 30 '13 at 18:15
  • I'm not sure that answers the question. It doesn't say whether or not politicians' policy decisions are actually influenced by who their donors are.
    – Publius
    Nov 30 '13 at 18:56
  • @Avi - it's a LOT more complicated than that. Policy decisions are influenced by wanting to win. Whether donors determine who wins is complicated. Do coal state politicians support pro coal policies because coal companies donate? Or rather because coal jobs lost belong to their voters?
    – user4012
    Nov 30 '13 at 22:17
  • @DVK I know you posed those questions rhetorically, but I think those are the questions you have to answer before you've answered OP's question. He can clarify if I'm misinterpreting, of course.
    – Publius
    Dec 1 '13 at 4:05

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