July 15, 2020
Contact: Eric Stann, 573-882-3346, StannE@missouri.edu
Proponents of campaign finance reform claim that putting limits on how much money can be raised and spent to support a political candidate leads to more competitive elections by helping level the political playing field between incumbents — the people holding the political office — and challengers. However, a new study by two social scientists at the University of Missouri finds state campaign finance reforms actually have no beneficial effect on the competitiveness of state legislative elections. Instead, some reforms, such as limits on corporate political spending and public financing of elections, advantage incumbents.
Jeff Milyo, a professor and chair of the Department of Economics in the MU College of Arts and Science, said the study improves on previous studies conducted prior to the ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court case, “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.” The ruling struck down state laws prohibiting corporations from using their money for political advertising as a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech.
In the study, researchers examined the competitiveness of state legislative elections before and after various changes in state laws, such as this ruling, Milyo said.
“Our analysis of nearly 66,000 state contests over 30 years — from 1986 to 2018 — reveals that most campaign finance reforms have little impact on state legislative elections,” Milyo said. “But if anything, the much-maligned Citizens United decision has led to an increase in electoral competitiveness. That decision, which struck down regulations in a number of states, provides a kind of natural experiment to examine the relationship between corporate political spending and the incumbency advantage in state legislative elections.”
Milyo said the study also demonstrates that full public financing of legislative elections, or “clean money” reforms that provide a set amount of financing to candidates, may also favor the reelection of an incumbent state legislator. He said it can be difficult for challengers to be successful in winning an election over a longtime state legislator.
“Challengers need to be able to raise and spend money to overcome the many advantages that incumbent legislators enjoy in elections,” Milyo said. “That’s why campaign finance reforms that limit political spending do not increase competitiveness in elections and sometimes have the opposite effect as might have been intended.”
The study, “Do campaign finance reforms insulate incumbents from competition? New evidence from state legislative elections,” was published in PS: Political Science and Politics, a quarterly journal of the American Political Science Association. Jordan Butcher, an assistant professor of political science at Arkansas State University, is a co-author on the study. Butcher graduated this year from MU with a doctorate in political science.
Study reveals risk factors for acute kidney injury after brain hemorrhage
Knowing which patients are at the highest risk can help doctors take precautions to prevent a severe kidney injury.
Journalism scholar team finds early foreign correspondents often came from socially less advantaged groups
This research reminds the news industry that having more journalists from a wider range of backgrounds can help to broaden the perspectives and issues addressed in international news.
Novel dashboard improves cancer case review efficiency
Dashboard enables easy access to clinical data, reduces costs for patients and hospitals and supports optimal decision-making.
More than ‘just a fish’ story
MU study will help fisheries management of a popular game fish — the smallmouth bass.
Stay up-to-date on all things Mizzou when you subscribe to the Show Me Mizzou newsletter. Issues will arrive in your inbox every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.