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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Do Campaign Contribution Limits Curb the Influence of Money in Politics?

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Over 40% of countries around the world have adopted limits on campaign contributions to curb the influence of money in politics. Yet, we have limited knowledge on whether and how these limits achieve this goal. With a regression discontinuity design that uses institutional rules on contribution limits in Colombian municipalities, we show that looser limits increase the number and value of public contracts assigned to the winning candidate’s donors. The evidence suggests that this is explained by looser limits concentrating influence over the elected candidate among top donors and not by a reduction in electoral competition or changes in who runs for office. We further show that looser limits worsen the performance of donor-managed contracts: they are more likely to run over costs and require time extensions. Overall, this paper demonstrates a direct link between campaign contribution limits, donor kickbacks, and worse government contract performance.

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