The Effectiveness of Money in Ballot Measure Campaigns – Article by Thomas Stratmann

From Volume 78, Number 4 (May 2005)

When it comes to money in politics, academic research has a difficult time establishing that the resources spent by special interest groups influence the formation of legislation, the passage and defeat of ballot measures, and the identity of the winner in candidate elections. For example, the academic literature on ballot initiatives suggests that campaign expenditures raised to pass initiatives have little effect on passage rates; if money has had any influence at all, then it may be in opposing initiatives. Elisabeth Gerber finds the evidence so weak that she concludes, “the empirical evidence provides further basis for rejecting the allegation that economic interest groups buy policy outcomes through the direct legislation process.” Other scholars have found that when special interests want initiatives passed, “money spent by proponents in this arena is largely wasted.” Also some works in the academic literature on campaign spending and campaign contributions find that their effects on political outcomes are small.

In contrast to much of the academic work, politicians appear to believe that money is important in politics. This is also suggested by the 1962 claim made by Jesse Unruh, Speaker of the California Assembly, that “‘money… is the mother’s milk of politics.’” Moreover, the popular press is full of claims that money has an important and overly heavy influence on politics.