Is Banning Corporate Contributions Enough? The Dynamics of Incomplete Campaign Finance Reform

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This paper studies whether banning corporate contributions suffices to curb firms’ efforts to influence politics. We examine Brazil’s 2015 campaign finance reform, which banned companies from making political contributions but did not ban political contributions made by individuals. Following the reform, overall contributions decreased significantly. However, this does not mean that influence in politics disappeared. Firms with high prereform contributions responded by increasing individual donations at both the intensive and extensive margins. More critically, individual contributions became more valuable after the reform: postban individual contributions to winning candidates increased firms’ valuation substantially, thereby replicating what only corporate donations achieved preban and partially offsetting the reform’s intent. Despite this, the reform reduced total contributions, increased shareholder protection by reducing excessive contributions, and leveled political participation among firms. Moreover, the reform increased market valuations for contributing firms. Overall, incomplete campaign finance reform does deliver notable successes but has critical loopholes.

All contributions by corporations … for any political purpose should be forbidden by law; directors should not be permitted to use stockholders’ money for such purposes; and, moreover, a prohibition of this kind would be … an effective method of stopping the evils aimed at in corrupt practices acts. (Theodore Roosevelt, President’s Annual Message, 1905, 40 Cong. Rec. 96 [1906])A ban on direct corporate contributions leaves individual members of corporations free to make their own contributions, and deprives the public of little or no material information. (Federal Election Commission v. Beaumont, 539 U.S. 146, 161 [2003])

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