Public Choice

, Volume 136, Issue 1, pp 215-239

First online:

Selling favors in the lab: experiments on campaign finance reform

  • Daniel HouserAffiliated withDepartment of Economics, Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science, George Mason University Email author 
  • , Thomas StratmannAffiliated withDepartment of Economics, Center for Study of Public Choice, George Mason University

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Campaign advertising can provide benefits to constituencies when used to fund the distribution of useful information, but voters can be harmed if candidates finance such advertising by trading policy favors to special interests in exchange for contributions. We report data from novel laboratory campaign finance experiments that shed light on this tradeoff, and that provide rigorous empirical evidence on formal campaign finance theory. Our key finding is that voters respond to advertising differently between special interest and publicly-financed campaigns, and that the nature of this difference is qualitatively consistent with formal models’ predictions.


Campaign contribution limits Campaign finance Public finance Political advertising Experiments