To clarify, since I imagine this is somewhat difficult to discern from a 150 character title limit:

Why is it that a resident of Rhode Island may donate to a candidate in Florida in order to bolster that candidate's re-election? It seems like a flagrant conflict of interests, as now the candidate can be beholden to the interests of a person outside of the district that they (ostensibly) represent. While obviously the Rhode Islander may not vote for or against the candidate, there's a strong correlation between money spent on a campaign and the probability that that candidate will win an election.

Phrased another way: What are the arguments for why a candidate should be able to accept donations from individuals and businesses outside of the district or State that they represent?

  • The title is a title, it doesn’t have to have the question in its entire complexity. That’s what the body is for ;)
    – Jan
    Dec 13, 2019 at 4:20

4 Answers 4


Limits on individual direct donation amounts serves to prevent any particular individual, in-state or out, from being able to unduly sway a candidate or office-holder by simply giving to the campaign.

But, yes, that is often a point of contention in elections - the incumbent raising larger and larger portions of their campaign warchests from out of state contributors (coordinated via special interests), or a challenger with little or no local support, but a lot of machinery behind them - as well as PACS and national organizations for either or both.

Why is it allowed? Compared to what, I'd ask. Unlimited anonymous corporate donations to phony "community education" groups that, by law, are not allowed to be political, at all? PACS?

The entire campaign finance system is designed to be one of legalized graft. In state or out of state is a relatively minor concern, comparatively.

  • 2
    As opposed to simply not allowing it. The primary argument I'm seeing here is "other bad things are happening, and closing this condition won't suddenly fix them, so we shouldn't close this condition." I don't agree with that; restricting the routes for corruption seems like a good move to me. It can also theoretically limit PACs to the represented area and prevent individuals outside of the represented area from donating to a PAC or super PAC. There will always be bad actors, but forcing them to develop new strategies will at least thwart them for a little while. Dec 12, 2019 at 15:22
  • @NegativeFriction - Except I'm not arguing against it. I'm saying that expecting them to safeguard against that when the system is designed to be a corrupt one that allows unlimited conduits of funding from outside special interests is not a realistic expectation. It's working exactly how it is supposed to. The system doesn't care about undue influence. That's not defending that system, it's calling it what it is. You didn't ask if it was a moral or ethical reason, you asked if there was a reason, and the reason is it's a corrupt system, by design. Dec 12, 2019 at 16:28

The fundamental Constitutional argument is that it's allowed by the First Amendment's free speech guarantees. If someone, or some group, supports principles that I agree with, why should the fact that I live some distance away prevent me from supporting them?

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    Was there any case law that established that campaign contributions were protected by the First Amendment before Citizens United?
    – divibisan
    Dec 12, 2019 at 23:04
  • @divibisan: Perhaps there was no prior case because it had always been assumed that it was a matter of free speech, until the government decided to intrude on that right, and people had to go to court to re-establish the principle. There are any number of similar instances, where something has traditionally been considered, if not a right defined in the Constitution, at least something that government should have no business interferring with.
    – jamesqf
    Dec 13, 2019 at 2:32
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    @divibisan - See Buckley_v._Valeo (1976). As jamesqf said, prior to 1974 there weren't meaningful/enforced restrictions on campaign contributions so there would be no need for case law. Likewise, Citizen's United was in response to McCain Feingold (2002) outlawing independent political expenditures, something which had previously been legal for 200 years. Jan 26 at 20:42

Politicians in office have power. From any individual's perspective, that is the power to do the right thing or the power to do the wrong thing. Political contributions may be given to support those doing the "right thing" or to the opponents of those doing the "wrong thing". It is the political form of "putting your money where your mouth is".

What are the arguments for why a candidate should be able to accept donations from individuals and businesses outside of the district or State that they represent?

Because it is not prohibited and the reason for the contribution is to get the candidate elected (or re-elected); however, note that certain businesses are not permitted to make political contributions and there are limitations on the amount of any contributions.

  • Suppose that there was an amendment of some sort on the table that would bar a politician from accepting funds outside of their district. I feel like these arguments (essentially, "it isn't prohibited") would no longer be applicable. What new arguments do you think we'd see? (Good answer, by the way. I don't want to come across as arguing with you, because I'm not trying to. My goal here is to see the other side of an argument that (in my mind) is an open and shut case so that I'm not ignoring opposing viewpoints) Dec 12, 2019 at 15:08
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    @NegativeFriction - See Regulation of Political Campaigns, "Laws limiting campaign contributions, spending challenged as violating First Amendment", ... while money given for political purposes implicates First Amendment concerns .... Any action prohibiting interstate political contributions (the other side of an argument) would have First Amendment concerns. I understand you want opposing views, but I choose to not argue against the First Amendment!
    – Rick Smith
    Dec 12, 2019 at 16:00

Such a rule restricting where donations can come from I personally expect would have issues with enforcement. What constitutes a source that is "outside" a district?

You could make it at least a bit harder for some to donate, I don't think it would do anything at all to stop businesses or PACs from shifting money from district to district. In the end the people it would have the biggest impact on are individuals making contributions. Everyone else may experience a small speed bump initially, at least until they get the loopholes figured out or have registered enough "in-distrct" PACs that can then have money shifted to in order to legally contribute.

Without such a restriction, though, candidates who would not have been able to raise much because of lack of name recognition may be able to raise enough funds to actually be able to compete in an election, and may be the deciding factor on whether they choose to run or not. I think an argument can be made that, at least in local elections, outside funds may be able to be used to campaign against entrenched elected officials who may otherwise have a tight grip on local power.

  • I can see the argument in the short term; a candidate who already has strong name recognition from years of running with PAC money and the like would have a distinct advantage over a competitor. But conversely-- we'd see a far more level playing field when that candidate retired and a new set of representatives had to compete. As for defining residency, I feel that one's easy-- define it the same way as we define it for the candidate. Must spend at least 51% of their time in the district and live there. Dec 12, 2019 at 15:53
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    @NegativeFriction That works for individuals, but corporations/PACs can organize themselves and register themselves wherever and whenever they want. Ultimately I don't think this solution will address the problem as you see it.
    – user5155
    Dec 12, 2019 at 16:00

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