Information About Money in Politics: A Double-edge Sword?

Prof. Todd Donovan
Prof. Shaun Bowler

We are interested in perceptions of money as a corrupting force in politics, and how information about campaign costs and the need for campaigns might affect how people view money in politics. This paper reports two studies. One tests how perceptions of money corrupting politics is associated with political distrust. This study shows that a prompt to consider political distrust may not affect perceptions of donor influence, but had some relationship with opinions about the need for stronger campaign finance regulations. Such prompts were also associated with a reduced sense that campaign finance laws can be effective. The second study manipulated information about the need for and costs of campaigns to test if such information is associated with how respondents viewed publicly financed campaigns and regulations such as contribution limits. Support for increasing contribution limits was affected by information about the need to campaign but was not consistently affected by providing information about the actual costs of advertising. With publicly financed campaigns, information about campaign costs was associated with substantially lower support of publicly financed campaigns. In sum, while distrust may fuel cynicism about money in politics, we find mixed evidence that information about the need to campaign may dampen that.